Born: November 3, 1958 Primary Instrument: Vocalist
John Boutté sings for all those in New Orleans and everywhere, that don't have a voice, were forgotten, denied, neglected...you get the idea. His singing exalts feelings and emotions few can express much less convey. He is that soul singer that only comes around once in a generation, this is his time!!
John Boutté was born by the river, on November 3, 1958, the eighth of 10 children; and grew up in the Seventh Ward of New Orleans. It was a rich musical environment in those days. During his school days John played coronet and trumpet, those clarions of life in New Orleans, in his junior high and high school marching bands; he was a section leader, no less, in a town where marching bands duel like decked-out demons in the street. School also gave John the chance to sing, first at talent shows and then with street acapella groups, with names as, Spirit, and then Remnant. Street bands singing on the bricks of a town where street singer is still a respectable job title. Stir in the spices of the music of his older brothers and sisters, the music that ruled the street and raised the spirits. During these years traditional jazzmen like Paul Babarin, Louis Big Eye Nelson and Danny Barker became both John's friends and mentors. John's sister, Lillian Boutte, introduces the young singer to local legends like Dr. John, Allen Toussaint and James Booker.
After high school, John studied at Xavier University, a black Catholic institution. Upon graduating John was commissioned as officer in the U. S. Army, and provided with the opportunity to direct and sing in the Army gospel choirs in Virginia, Texas and, eventually, Korea. It was in Korea, ironically, when singing gospel and deep, deep blues after hours in restaurants he'd only accidentally entered, that he began to know himself as an American, an artist and a person. Not long after his return to the States, John was invited to tour Europe with his sister Lillian. Europe was a set of lessons in languages and cultures and customs, which gave John a chance to meditate on the very idea of a life led as a jazz singer.
When John eventually got back home to New Orleans he continued singing. But now there was a new generation, a new breed of musicians available; musicians like Herlin Riley, Shannon Powell, Nicholas Payton and Bryan Blade. He began to open shows for the likes of Mel Torme, Lou Rawls, Rosemary Clooney and, Herbie Hancock. He struck out on his own and quickly acquired a reputation as a premier singer, and an unabashed front man. Through many gigs, and on many bandstands, he has built up a repertoire of quality material. Boutté can carry a song like it’s the end of the world. His voice is the perfect blend of gospel, soul and jazz with just enough blues to make it real.
Boutté has recorded some true gems. “Through the Eyes of A Child,” (1993) “ Scotch and Soda,” (1997) “Mardi Gras Mambo,” Cubanisimo in New Orleans (2000) is a critically acclaimed and award-winning Cubanismo album; a collaboration between Cuba and New Orleans; featuring the classic Mother In Law as a cha-cha cha and John's duet with Topsy Chapman It Do Me Good. “At the Foot of Canal Street,” (2001) “Carry Me Home,” (2003) and in 2003 again, the remarkable “Jambalaya,” offering sixteen helpings of John Boutte's mix of bayou- blended soul, backed by a band of seasoned New Orleans musicians. This record is John Boutté at his best.
Yet another CD entitled “Gospel United,” a concert recording arranged in Denmark, contains his remarkable solo arrangement of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, which has achieved Gold Record status in several European markets.
He is the recipient of the Best Male Vocalist Award, in the Offbeat Best of the Beat balloting. This is a big deal in New Orleans, and John is the perennial winner in this category. His performances are a crowd favorite at the yearly Jazz Fest, and he has traveled to Europe and South America with assorted bands of New Orleans musicians. He appeared on several Katrina Benefit shows and on recordings for the cause, as the New Orleans Social Club, “Sing Me Back Home,” featuring Ivan Neville, George Porter, Leo Nocentelli, Henry Butler, and Raymond Weber.
In the aftermath of Katrina, John Boutté stepped up and became a strong voice in the reconstruction and rebuilding of New Orleans. This was his city and damn if he was going to let it be washed away. This writer was in New Orleans for Disaster Relief, and I met John in a record shop. He invited me down to Frenchman’s Street to check out his show.
In a sparse stage setting accompanied by an upright bass, a jazz box guitar and then Trombone Shorty on his ‘bone, he began to testify. His command of the stage and room spilled out onto the street where a crowd had gathered. For that one night, he owned that whole block down there, rolled it up and tucked it into his back pocket, then went into Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” and brought us all back home. Amen!
It was a performance I will never forget! Singing his heart out amidst the Katrina experience and the overwhelming sorrow of a whole city, this guy shone a light on us. Even if it was for those few hours we all forgot that there was still darkness just around the corner, sadness up the street, and despair on the other side of town. There really is magical healing possible through the power of music. If the performer turns shaman and channels his energy, a transformation happens. On the banks of the river, the whisper of a spiritual with original intentions of possible redemption, brought laughter in a room where tears fell yesterday.
“I’ve always performed with drama,” he says, “but since the levees failed, I’ve had to dig a little deeper. It takes a little more meditation and preparation than it did before. I have to connect with people’s suffering and find a way to bring them up. You don’t do that by putting on an act. You do it by being yourself, by being honest about your own suffering and finding some hope in the middle of all that. You do it by being as human as you can.”
John still lives in New Orleans, down in the French Quarter, a mile or so from the home in which he was raised. When he's in town he can be seen on his overgrown tropical balcony overlooking Rampart Street and Congo Square. Sometimes you can hear him singing, sometimes whistling, or sometimes you can hear him faintly from the street as he sits at his piano singing a Korean lullaby. John's job is to sing - to sing jazz, to sing it with such style and grace that no one ever mistakes him for anything other than a master. John is one of those remarkable cases where the art arises from the true heart. To know John is to hold onto the coattails of a butterfly. To hear him sing is to feel a brief touch of the wing.
Though a lot of progress has been made since Katrina, there is still a lot of reconstruction and rebuilding which needs to be done. There are still a lot of relocated musicians. John Boutté is still very active in the Renewal of New Orleans and is spreading his message of hope wherever possible. He is a genuine talent, and a voice for his people back home, where he is loved, respected and admired and that is all that matters to him.
In December of 2007 John released The Winter Solstice. An extraordinary collection of 8 songs taken from the December 2006 performance of John Boutte with Conspirare for Christmas at the Carillon in Austin TX
Conspirare is a Grammy nominated professional chorale group from Austin directed by Craig Hella Johnson.
The performance is an innovative and daring blending of sacred and secular, art music and popular music. The shared musical experiences are intended to bring us together in a spirit of unity, peace and hope, and to reflect upon the sacredness of all things.
John in March of 2008 released his self produced recording entitled Good Neighbor. It received alot of airplay in the Big Easy, where he won the Best Male Vocalist award again from Best of the Beat.
Not one to rest on his laurels John has just released in collaboration with guitarist Paul Sanchez,Stew Called New Orleans. On this record the two friends continue to roll along on a good time groove and take us with them for a musical journey through New Orleans.
Source: James Nadal
Awards:John was selected as the "Best Male Vocalist" of the year at 2003 The Best of the Beat Awards, and also at the 2006 OffBeat Awards
On April 16, 2001 John Boutte was presented with the Big Easy Award for Best Male Vocalist. In addition John Boutte' & Cubanismo were selected for best Latin album for Mardi Gras Mambo.
There was both authority and magnetism in his version of Steve Goodman's 'City of New Orleans.' Mr. Boutte recorded it several years ago with a bluegrass band called Uptown Okra, and his arrangement with Mr. Duke preserves a similar rollicking feel. -Nate Chinen, NY Times