Ronnie Lamarque, car dealer and classic crooner, to live his dream on Jazz Fest stage | Louisiana Festivals

Ronnie Lamarque is a classic crooner in the Tony Bennett, Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra mold. He and his 18-piece band are going to close out the Economy Hall Tent on Friday afternoon at the long-awaited 2022 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Chances are, it will be the No. 1 curiosity concert for Crescent City audiences who want to find out if Ronnie can really bring it.

He’s got some cred. Lamarque was a finalist in the 13th season of “America’s Got Talent.” He’ll proudly tell you he came in 39th out of 46,214 contestants. Not bad, right?

But not everyone is convinced that he’s earned a place in the first-Friday cubes, alongside PJ Morton, Aurora Nealand, Boyfriend and other local luminaries who’ve put in years climbing the career ladder.

From a nickel bike to a $225,000 sedan

Lamarque may have spent a half-century pining to perform professionally, but he’s concentrated mostly on a side hustle, selling cars. And it’s worked out pretty well for him. Anyone with a television has seen his commercials. He’s the suave yet self-effacing frontman for his own Ford and Mercedes empire. Lamarque said he recently dropped about $10 million on his fourth dealership in Harahan.


Ronnie Lamarque poses at his home in New Orleans, Tuesday, April 26, 2022. Lamarque will close out the Economy Hall tent with a performance at 5:45 on the first Friday of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. (Photo by Sophia Germer,, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

While chatting about his upcoming show by phone earlier this week, Lamarque said he was steering a $225,000 Mercedes-Benz Maybach sedan through traffic on Interstate 10. But it hasn’t always been that way. He recalls a time when his mode of transportation was a rented bicycle.

Lamarque, 76, grew up working-class in Arabi with seven siblings. When he was 12, he had a paper route, but no bike, so he borrowed one for a nickel per day.

His favorite customer was Fats Domino. He said he routinely tossed the rock ‘n’ roller two copies of the States-Item, instead of just one. Lamarque said Domino noticed, and one day palmed him $100.

“I stretched it for three years,” Lamarque said of the windfall.

Dream deferred 

Like every other kid in New Orleans — or anywhere else for that matter — Lamarque wanted to grow up to be a big-time singer like Fats. In the ’60s, he performed as one of the Beatles in a high school tribute band. Later he got to sing with the Nobles, a popular New Orleans cover band. At age 17, he said, he seemed to get a break, when a Chicago producer invited him to a Canal Street recording studio to lay down two tracks.

But musical stardom didn’t follow. The dude just disappeared, Lamarque said. Later, he heard the producer had died of a heart attack. That, more or less, marked the end of Lamarque’s teen dreams. Over the next several decades, becoming a multimillionaire car mogul took up most of his time.


Ronnie Lamarque holds a Global Music Awards medal he received for his album called ‘A Song for You’ at his home in New Orleans, Tuesday, April 26, 2022. Lamarque will close out the Economy Hall tent with a performance at 5:45 on the first Friday of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. (Photo by Sophia Germer,, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Then, in 2017, at age 71, Lamarque gave himself the gift of a lifetime. He hired New Orleans producer Jack Miele to help him assemble a band and record 15 of his favorite songs for an album he titled 17-71, marking a return to his original ambition. A few months later, he staged a concert at the 1,000-seat Jefferson Performing Arts Center, paying for the whole shebang himself.

Then, in 2018, came his national appearance on “America’s Got Talent,” where judge Chris Hardwick thought Lamarque did “a spectacular job.” But judgier judge Simon Cowell concluded that his song choice was a bit too “karaoke” to take him to the next round. That disappointment was soon swept away when the septuagenarian singer was added to the lineup of the 2020 Jazz Fest.

We’re for real

The 2020 and 2021 Jazz Fests slipped into a two-year COVID time warp with the rest of the world. But finally, Lamarque’s time has come.

Ronnie Lamarque's dream concert bridges the gap across time

Lamarque’s been working hard to get in shape for his performance at the track, just as the fabled thoroughbred Risen Star, the horse he co-owned in the 1980s, prepared for the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Lamarque said that earlier this month, he performed an invitation-only, 28-song, more-than-two-hour concert at the Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts. Plus a run-through and dress rehearsal in the same week.

“It was a tough three days, even for a young dude like me,” Lamarque said laughing. On Friday, he said “We should be really tight. We’re for real.”

“Ronnie Lamarque is truly a beloved New Orleans icon,” said festival producer Quint Davis via email. “He has always been serious about his singing, dating back to 1988 when he sang on national television at the finish line of the Preakness Race for the Triple Crown (after Risen Star’s winning run). As Frank would say, Ronnie ‘did it his way.’”

Younger than Roger Daltrey

Lamarque said that Jazz Festers should be ready for some swing standards, plus a “really wonderful” seven-minute rendition of the Stray Cats’ “Rock This Town.” And he promises Blood Sweat and Tears’ “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” will give the audience chills.

At 76, Lamarque won’t be out of place at the Fest. He’s the same age as guitarist Pete Townshend of The Who, two years younger than The Who’s singer, Roger Daltrey, and only three years older than Stevie Nicks. But he appreciates that closing out a tent at Jazz Fest could be a once-in-a-lifetime event. So he’s giving it his all.

“This could be my last hurrah,” he said. “I’m putting a lot of energy out there.”

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