For years, John Boutte was regarded as one of New Orleans’ best-kept secrets.
Last year, music legend Irma Thomas was the featured performer at Touro Synagogue’s annual JazzFest Shabbat, while that very week at the Big Easy Awards, Boutte was being honored as the city’s Entertainer of the Year.
This month, Boutte will be the featured entertainer at JazzFest Shabbat on April 27. He has rocketed to prominence following the exposure he has received for “Treme Song” on his “Jambalaya” album. That song was selected to be the theme music for the HBO series “Treme,” about the struggles of post-Katrina New Orleans.
Born in the 7th Ward as the eighth of 10 children, Boutte grew up surrounded by New Orleans music. In high school, he played coronet and trumpet, and sang in street bands.
He graduated from Xavier University and then spent four years in the U.S. Army, directing Army gospel choirs in the U.S. and Korea. Returning home, he got a job at a credit union, then met Stevie Wonder, who encouraged him to develop his talent.
Boutte traveled Europe with his sister Lillian and performed on her live album, then pursued his own musical dreams.
He gained a reputation and opened for Mel Torme, Lou Rawls, Rosemary Clooney and Herbie Hancock. He released several albums, starting with “Through the Eyes of a Child” in 1993. “Mardi Gras Mambo” is a Cubanismo album, fusing Cuba and New Orleans. “Jambalaya” was released in 2003.
His “Gospel United” album recorded in Denmark is noted for its arrangement of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and has gone gold in several European markets.
He is routinely featured at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and will be playing JazzFest again this year, on May 5.
The evening at Touro Synagogue begins with a patron’s dinner and concert with Boutte at 6 p.m. The event usually sells out well in advance. Patron levels start at $150, $50 for those under 17.
The Shabbat service at 7:30 p.m. will feature Boutte, along with the Panorama Jazz Band, Sophie B. Wright Charter School, Touro Synagogue Choir, along with music director Terry Maddox and Cantor Jamie Marx.
Jazz Fest Shabbat, started two decades ago by the late Cantor Stephen Dubov, showcases local musicians on the opening weekend of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival with a particular emphasis on jazz music along with traditional Jewish worship prayers and songs.
The event is very popular and generally draws a packed house. Many out of town JazzFest devotees make the service part of their annual visit to New Orleans.