Lumar LeBlanc has performed for a president and shared stages with rock, rap and jazz royalty around the globe, but there is nothing jaded in his telling of these stories.
An enthusiastic student of people, with a degree in clinical social work, he is not weary of the world and its inhabitants. Even after a quarter-century touring with his band, the New Orleans-based Soul Rebels, memories of the unexpected places music has taken him bubble with joy.
"Awesome" is a word that pops up frequently, whether LeBlanc is talking about performing for President Ronald Reagan or with Metallica.
LeBlanc's catholic embrace of what the world has to offer began at St. Augustine High School, New Orleans' prestigious, predominantly black, all-boys school known for its exacting discipline and impressive list of alumni (including former New Orleans mayor Sidney Barthelemy; Dean Baquet, executive editor of the New York Times; and New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese).
It was while at "St. Aug," as a freshman percussionist in the Marching 100 (under its legendary band master, the late Edwin Hampton) that LeBlanc found himself in a room performing "Hail to the Chief" to welcome President Reagan for a speech in New Orleans' old Rivergate Convention Center.
"'It was a beautiful thing. I felt privileged, walking through the hood knowing I was actually playing for the president," says LeBlanc, describing it as part of a "continuum" of high-profile performances by the band, from NFL audiences to Pope John Paul II. "I had to get over my stage fright early on."
LeBlanc went on to Texas Southern University in Houston, where he balanced his studies with a stint in TSU's famed Ocean of Soul marching band. This led him to form the Soul Rebels, a brassy octet that conjures a brilliantly adventurous, "socially soulful" brew of funk, hip-hop and jazz from instruments often found on a football field: trumpets, trombones and the tubalike sousaphone.
A reviewer of one of their early shows in the 1990s called the Soul Rebels a cross between Public Enemy and Louis Armstrong.
"We call it hip-hop-funk-til-you-drop jazz," says LeBlanc, who will perform with the Soul Rebels 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 3, at Revolution Live in Fort Lauderdale.
The sound has a suitably wide range of famous fans, from South Florida-raised jazz-funk shaman John Medeski to gloom rocker Marilyn Manson, spawn of Broward County. Manson invited the Soul Rebels onstage in Japan to do a short set that included his caustic anthem "Beautiful People."
"Whew, Lord. Wow," LeBlanc says. "Manson is a thrill to be around, as you can imagine. Like a rock star. But he's really music. You strip down all the layers, true musicians unite strictly on the basis of your talent and art, and that's what we did."
The Soul Rebels performed in London on the BBC TV show "Later … With Jools Holland," a 2008 segment that included Lou Reed, Aaron Neville and Metallica. Backstage, LeBlanc was approached by fellow drummer Lars Ulrich of Metallica, who asked if the Soul Rebels would be interested in working with his band.
The relationship led to an invitation for the Soul Rebels to perform with Metallica in its four-night set of 30th anniversary concerts at the Fillmore in San Francisco in 2011, a show that included Jerry Cantrell, Ozzy Osbourne, Rob Halford, Dave Mustaine, Glenn Danzig, Pepper Keenan, Lou Reed and Marianne Faithful.
"We're always up for a challenge, but what an honor," says LeBlanc, who says it took weeks of "intense and meticulous" practice for the band to learn 10 Metallica songs for the concerts, which always ended with an all-star jam on "Seek and Destroy."
While the Soul Rebels' most popular cover is the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," they have been known to unleash a hip-hop version of "Enter Sandman."
LeBlanc's cultural curiosity and openness to experience is shared by the band's audiences, he says.
"That's one of the blessings that we have and that we offer to the world," LeBlanc says. "A Soul Rebel audience is probably the most eclectic audience you'll find. All different age groups, all different kinds of people, all different ethnic groups. We just bring everybody together."
The Soul Rebels will perform 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 3, at Revolution Live, 100 SW Third Ave., in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $16.50 at the box office, also available at all Ticketmaster outlets. Call 954-449-1025 or go to JoinTheRevolution.net.