AN: Allen and I go way back. He produced my first recording in 1960. And we worked together from 1960 to 1964 and again in 1971 and 1972. We founded New Orleans Artists Against Hunger & Homelessness in 1984.
TR: Did you and Allen do any work together when you two were growing up?
AN: We went to the same high school. He was kind of a big shot. To me he was — he was older. I think he was a senior when I was a sophomore. But I worked up some nerve and passed him some poems I’d written. He put them to music and created songs out of them.
TR: How is the recovery process going in New Orleans?
AN: A lot of it is back. A lot of it is not going to come back. There are a lot of places here that will never be back. There is still construction to be done, and there are still houses that are empty. There’s a lot more that could be done. Most of it is getting done by regular citizens. The government didn’t even try to do all that it could do.
But it’s coming back. You know those toys that you hit and they bounce right back up? That’s what the people of New Orleans are like. That’s our spirit; hit us and we’ll bounce back up.
TR: Fifty years ago, did you think you’d be where you are now?
AN: I just wanted to sing. That was the most important thing to me. I wasn’t that concerned about a career. But here I am!
TR: What do the next 50 years in the music business hold for Aaron Neville?
AN: Well, I’m getting married next year. I lost my wife, Joel, three years ago. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2004, and we had three good years together until she passed in 2007. It was rough. I was trying to get to the other side of it. But I’m happy now. Music is a healer; it always has been a healer for me. It gets you through whatever adversity you face.
Martin Johnson is a regular contributor to The Root.