Charmaine Neville


January 16, 2017


How old are you?

I’m not going to answer that question. I’m 21.

Where are you from?

New Orleans, Louisiana. I’ve been playing and singing music since I was two years old.

Why have you chosen to stay in New Orleans?

Because it’s where I was born and everything I got came from New Orleans. It came from the musicians who nurtured me in and showed me the way to go. I love New Orleans. This is my city. Music is in our blood. It’s in the way we walk, the way we talk, the way we stir our beans on Mondays. It’s in the way that we just do everything.

In what capacity would you describe your role within the music community of New Orleans?

Wow. That’s a hard question. I know what other people say but that to me is not even right. They call me “the sweetheart” of the music which I think is ridiculous.

Why do you think they call you that?

Because they think I’m sweet but they’re all wrong. I am not sweet. I am such a monster when it comes to my music and everything has to be perfect. That’s just how I am. I know that they really just want to call me a bitch but they don’t. They at least don’t do it front of me.

Do you remember being told or taught anything while you were growing up about the behavioral expectations that were upon you as a girl?

Oh yes. I will never forget this as long as I live. A teacher told me that I needed to not to think that I was going to be anything because I was never going to be anything. She told me I was never going to be anything because I was black and because there was no room for people like me in the world. This was a white teacher and she said I wasn’t good at anything so why didn’t I just sit down and be quiet?

What subject did she teach?

She taught English. And I’ll never forget that and when I did start singing and going all over the world, she asked me to come to her class to do career day for the young people. And I went and I told the young people straight up, “If it wasn’t for this lady right here, I wouldn’t be who I am today,” because it’s very true. If she had not told me not to do it and that I couldn’t do it, then I wouldn’t have fought so hard to get out there and do it. It really is because of her.

Do you remember how old you were when she said that?

I was like eight.

Can you define sexism as it presents itself to you?

People—men—telling me this is a man’s world. Women are not taken seriously in this business. I fired a musician once because he said to me, “You’re writing the checks? Where’s the man who’s in charge of this band?” I laughed in his face and said, “You’re so fired.” He said, “What does that mean? Where’s the man who runs the band?” I said, “You’re looking at him.” He said, “No, you’re a woman, I don’t take money from women, I don’t take anything from women. You’re nothing.” And I couldn’t believe he said that to me. I don’t feel bad that I fired him. Get the hell out of town.

How does being treated in a sexist way make you feel?

It makes me feel like you’re an idiot. I want to fight more and I’m going to show you that exactly what you’re saying is not true. Some of the greatest musicians in the world that I have worked with are older gentlemen who would tell me, “No matter what anybody says to you—fight.” And that was what I’ve done my whole life, fought for what I wanted.

Do you always notice when individuals are acting in a sexist way?

Always. You can feel it. I walk into a room and can tell that everybody is looking at you because of the color of your skin. You feel that same thing when someone is being a sexist jerk. You feel that same feeling.

Can you recall any specific occasions when you experienced sexist behavior against you that may have stuck with you?

I was on tour with a very famous musician and his band and every night when I’d walk out of stage, he would cut the string in the back of my costume. And to this very day when I see him, he’ll laugh and say, “Oh do you remember...?” Of course I remember! Everybody in the world saw. I always tried to walk to other way on stage so I didn’t have to walk in front of him but he’d come right behind me, make like he was singing with me and then he’d cut my costume.

Are there any particular stereotypes of men or of women that just drive you insane?

That women are not worthy of anything. That we’re not good enough to be in this business. I’ll never forget going to a concert—Joan Jett—and this guy sitting next to me said, “A woman?” And I said, “Excuse me? She’s fabulous. Look what she’s doing! She’s playing, she’s singing and she’s doing everything. She wrote that song!” He said, “She didn’t write that song.” I said, “I happen to know she did write that song.” And he said, “Oh so you’re one of those. Y’all stick together, y’all are all lesbians.” Because I said that she’s a great musician, I’m a lesbian? Even if I was a lesbian, that ain’t none of your goddamn business. I’ve had things like that happen many times. And the first thing that they say when you don’t want to interact with them sexually is, “Oh you’re a lesbian.”

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Are you going to stay for the show?


Good. I enjoy what I do. I love what I do. I think it’s very important that when I’m on that stage that I portray the strong woman. I want other woman to know that it doesn’t matter if you’re on stage or in an office setting or in a janitorial setting or in the Army or the Navy. Whatever you are just remember that you are a strong woman and you should portray yourself that way. That way people will always look at you as that strong woman.

As a woman who has grown up in New Orleans music, have you seen any changes in the way that women hold themselves within this community?

Yes, definitely. We don’t take any mess from anybody. I grew up in a family that was music. It was all men and I was the first female to go my own way with my music. I’ll never forget when I was coming up, people would say “Oh just because her name is Neville...” No, I am not a Neville brother. I am a daughter of a Neville but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to do their kind of music. What I am going to do is be me. When people finally realized that I wasn’t going to emulate the Neville Brothers and who I was then they started taking me seriously and respect me. They don’t say that anymore. Because they know I know karate.