IS SO CONCERNED about the welfare of young people that he
has donated his talent to record an inspirational album to
raise funds for youth in southern Louisiana. Profits from
Doing It Their Own Way: A Contemporary Meditation on the
Way of the Cross will be used to construct an interdenominational
retreat center for youth on about 80 acres located between
New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
grew up in the Calliope Housing Project in New Orleans, sings
excerpts from "Were You There?" after each of 14 reflections
read by Father Jeffery Bayhi, who wrote the text. Bayhi (BUY-ee)
is director of vocations for the Diocese of Baton Rouge and
works with substance abusers. "This meditation is born out
of the years in which so many people under the weight of their
own personal crosses trusted me with their journey," writes
Bayhi on the inside cover of the recording.
Bayhi performed excerpts from the album last June at the Catholic
Press Association Convention in New Orleans, where Mardi Gras
celebrations are now in full swing. Father Bayhi explains
why he wanted Aaron Neville to collaborate on this album:
His songs go "from the very secular to the really sublime
to the most sacred."
session was unusually short, explains Bayhi. "If anyone is
familiar with taping and recording, you don't do a 43-minute
piece of work in an hour and 15 minutes." The original release
sold out in less than a year.
"We made this
recording so the next generation will have a chance to know
how important faith is in this journey we call life," says
Bayhi. "Blending an old spiritual hymn with modern thoughts
and language makes each station more meaningful."
During an interview
following their performance, Bayhi says, "Aaron and I both
share a vision that our kids need more than what they're getting"
at home and at school. He envisions a facility that is affordable
and available "for anyone who works with kids." It could be
used for recreation, retreats and other activities.
hits include the 1966 solo "Tell It Like It Is" and the 1990
Grammy Award-winning duet "Don't Know Much," which he sings
with Linda Ronstadt. He also performs and records with his
three brothers. The Neville Brothers' Web site (www.nevilles.com)
notes that the acclaimed crooners were inducted into the New
Orleans Music Walk of Fame.
is known as much for his distinctive falsetto singing voice
as for his numerous tattoos. He corrects a misconception about
the tattoo that adorns his left cheek: "It's not a cross,"
he explains in a voice that's just above a whisper. "It's
just a sword." He got it when he was about 16. Why did he
choose a sword? "No special reason." He recalls his father's
reaction: "My dad made me scrub it with a Brillo pad.
"My folks had
a very strong faith," says Neville, a grandfather in his late
50's. Following the example set by his parents, he tries to
instill his own offspring with a sense of morals, something
he believes many young people lack. "I don't envy kids growing
up today," he says, noting the availability of drugs and other
It's easy to
picture the admittedly shy singer who now quietly follows
Father Bayhi's lead being swayed as a youth by peer pressure.
In an interview in Catholic Digest, he admits to using
drugs and spending time in prison for car theft during a low
period in his life. He went from having a hit record in the
1960's to unloading freight on the docks in the 1970's in
order to support his wife and kids. It was a time when his
marriage was falling apart. (He and his wife have since reunited.)
his survival to God and his Catholic faith. "One day, I remembered
my mother telling me about St. Jude, and I started going wherever
I heard they were having a St. Jude novena," recalls Neville.
He now dedicates each of his albums to the saint of hopeless
causes, and one of the earrings he wears is a St. Jude medal.
a Deceiver, Now a Believer
Neville walked onto the stage at the Catholic Press Association
Convention, the approximately 400 people packed into the room
had already been sitting a few hours through lunch, followed
by a rousing presentation by Helen Prejean, C.S.J., the popular
nun who wrote Dead Man Walking.
Would the Grammy
Award-winning singer be able to hold the crowd that had just
given the best-selling author a standing ovation? The pop
singer had many fans among the conventioneers, and a number
of hotel employees took a break from their duties to grab
the opportunity to catch Neville's performance. But others
had never heard of the solemn-faced man who walked onstage
displaying tattoos and an abundance of gold jewelry.
Neville sings, he knows all the lyrics by hearthe doesn't
rely on a TelePrompTer. He clenches his eyes tightly closed,
as if he's blocking out all distractions and going into a
prayerful trance. This is clearly not a deceptive act. If
it's true that when you sing you pray twice, this entertainer
does a lot of praying onstage.
"Don't Take Away My Heaven," one of his soft-rock hits, then
asks people to hold hands as he passionately sings "The Lord's
Prayer," another selection from his Grand Tour album.
The pop singer includes at least one hymn in all of his albums.
the autobiographical "To Make Me Who I Am," he talks about
his life and admits, "Sometimes we make good choices, sometimes
we make bad." Then he croons, "Once I was a deceiver, but
now I am a believer."
Neville attended St. Monica's Elementary School, he developed
a fondness for Marian songs. As he begins one of his favorites,
"Ave Maria," some technical problems arise. Unlike
some entertainers who publicly shame their crew, this celebrity
calmly explains to the audience that it isn't anyone's fault
and starts over.
voice is not the result of formal lessons, he explains: "The
Lord gave it to me."
He feels obligated
to use this gift to help others. "There have been times in
my life when all I had was my voice and I felt rich. If I
didn't have my voice, I don't know what my existence would
other people's existence, too. He tells the audience about
an autistic boy who was described as unmanageable except when
listening to one of Aaron Neville's recordings. It's obvious
from the tone of his voice that this story has deeply touched
joins Neville onstage for excerpts from Doing It Their
Own Way. The still crowded room responds with a standing
ovation, followed by a lengthy autograph session where copies of the recording
are selling like beignets.
It Their Own Way can be ordered from Metanoia, Inc., 749
East Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70802. Telephone: 225-336-8778,
fax: 225-336-8710 ($10 for cassette or $15 for CD, plus $2.50
each shipping and handling).
Dangel is an assistant editor of this publication who enjoyed
the sights, sounds and flavors of New Orleans.