Raymond Arroyo has a glimpse inside the profound faith of this Catholic singer — and Aaron Neville himself speaks movingly of his journey into drug addiction and back:
“It’s four o’clock in the morning in New York, and I’m staying at a friend’s house, and I’m sitting there by myself with a tape recorder. And I’m singing Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers: ‘Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?,’ ‘One of These Mornings I’m Going Home.’ And I learned a poem called ‘Lovely Lady Dressed in Blue’ at St. Monica’s. And I just put music to it. And it came out as if somebody had already written it. It says: ‘Lovely lady dressed in blue/teach me how to pray./ God was just your little boy,/ and you know the way.’ And I wanted to learn how to pray. I knew how to pray the Our Father, the Hail Mary, but I wanted something deeper.”
It was at that moment that Neville realized the depth of his addiction. On the spot, he decided to chase after grace and cut all ties to the “devil” that had held him hostage for so long. He checked himself into rehab, relying heavily on the mother of God and the apostle Jude. From that day on, Neville says he has not touched a drug. He would later reconcile with [his estranged wife] Joel. This year, they celebrated 41 years of marriage.
At the 1984 World’s Fair, Neville’s life took another turn. Singer Linda Ronstadt came to see the Nevilles’ show. So taken was she by Aaron’s ethereal sound that she joined him on stage for several duets. They would later record the duet “Don’t Know Much,” which would go on to win a Grammy. It was the first of many for Neville.
Ronstadt would later produce Aaron’s first solo recording, Warm Your Heart. The last track on the album is the Ave Maria complete with a full chorus and lush orchestration. Neville and the song he did not understand had come full circle.
Since that time, Neville has included a spiritual track at the conclusion of all his records. “Lovely Lady Dressed in Blue,” “Song of Bernadette,” and “The Lord’s Prayer” shine like rare jewels on his A&M recordings. “It’s my connection with God. It’s something I’m giving to Him,” Neville says. “I always tell people I want to see the world through His eyes, and I want people to see Him in me.”
Neville’s recent CD, Devotion, gives his audience a chance to do just that. Entirely composed of spirituals, the CD features the official song of World Youth Day 2000, “There Is Still a Dream,” and several Neville originals. He also produced and owns the work. “It’s a thanksgiving to God. It’s something I have wanted to do for a long time, but the record company wasn’t ready for it. So I did it myself,” he says.
Read it all. You’ll be glad you did.
Below, you can hear his ethereal rendition of The Lord’s Prayer: