It may be the most-asked question of L.A.-based, Montreal-born Ric’key Pageot’s intriguing career: “What’s Madonna like?”

After a stint as Cirque du Soleil’s music director, the veteran SOCAN member played keyboards for the Material Girl on four of her world tours, starting with 2008’s Sticky & Sweet – and also gave piano lessons to her daughter Mercy James, currently performing with Mom on the Celebration tour.

So here’s the firsthand scoop: “She’s extremely hardworking, a micro-manager, pays attention to details, and she’s all about being at the top of her game, and expects that from everyone around her,” Pageot (pronounced PAWJH-oh) responds with a chuckle from Los Angeles. He lives there with his wife Dessy Di Lauro, a fellow SOCAN member songwriter, and frontperson of the couple’s Parlor Social – an outfit that’s created their own genre, speakeasy soul/prohibition funk.

“The concept we created was a modern-day version of Harlem renaissance,” says Pageot. “The music is a collaboration of Dessy writing songs and lyrics and background vocals, and I was producing and writing together.

“What’s really interesting is that Dessy’s self-taught,  and I’ve studied music all my life, but we still have this complicity where we understand each other,” continues Pageot, selected as a brand ambassador for Steinway pianos. “So I can offer the fanciest chords and she can navigate around it because her ear is so developed. She can come up with the best melodies, and I can come up with the jazziest chords to complement her.”

While Parlor Social is on the back burner, due to numerous projects he and his wife participate in separately, Pageot – who’s written for Jill Scott and Earth, Wind and Fire, and also toured with Cher and Diana Ross – is keeping busy with two concerns.

Rickey Pageot, Steinway, video

Select the image to play the YouTube video of the Steinway Artist Spotlight on Ric’key Pageot

At the moment, he’s collaborating with another superstar: Christina Aguilera,  performing an occasional weekend residency throughout the summer at Voltaire, an intimate, 1,000-seat performance space within the Venetian Las Vegas hotel.

More importantly, Pageot is preparing to star in his theatre debut, in the Latino Theater Company’s late-April 2024 production of Oliver Mayer’s Ghost Waltz.

Pageot, in his first acting role, embodies expert ragtime pianist Scott Joplin, in a play that sheds light on the life of  Mexican classical composer Juventino Rosas, whose most famous work, Sobre las olas, has been mistakenly attributed to Johann Strauss.

“Joplin did write two operas,” Pageot explains. “One was destroyed – nobody can find it – and the other [Treemonisha], he premiered it with just piano and vocals, because he couldn’t find the money to put the production together. But it ran in the ‘70s, and just last year it was performed by three or four companies. So it’s become really popular.”

The role dovetails nicely with Pageot’s own mandate: to spotlight the works of Black classical composers William Grant Still, George Walker, Florence Price, Joseph Boulougne Chevalier, George Bridgetower, and Drummondville, Ontario-born Canadian R. Nathaniel Dett.

“In the first 10 years that I studied classical music, I don’t recall ever being told that there were Black classical composers who contributed immensely to the genre,” says Pageot. “So, in 2019, when I was driving down Highland Avenue here in Hollywood, I came across the Hollywood Bowl marquee, and saw ‘Afro-American Symphony,’ by William Grant Still, so that was my first discovery. I got back home and did some research, and when the pandemic hit, that was all I was doing – a lot of research on Black composers and classical music, all over the world.

“I was hitting up libraries. I was hitting up cultural centres. It’s a passion of mine right now, which is both teaching me and bringing me back full circle to performing  classical music again for the public. It’s an exciting time in my career as well. I feel like it’s my duty and I have to do it for the next generation.”

Pageot has a half-dozen recordings featuring the music of these historically obscure composers on Spotify. “I’m literally just getting started.”

Growing up in Montréal

After he graduated from Vanier College and McGill University – the latter with a Bachelor’s Degree in Jazz Performance – Pageot played regularly at the popular night spot Jello Bar as a member of Café Soul.

“Jello Bar was my school,” he recalls. “The lead singer was soul legend Alan Prater, and the band took me under their wing. Prater toured with The Jacksons in the early ‘80s, and he’s written hits with Cameo. That was my school after school, playing at the Jello Bar week after week. That was my favourite hang.”

He says his  Montréal upbringing also helped his career in other ways. “The beauty about growing up in Montréal is that you’re exposed to so many different cultures, whether it’s food, whether it’s language, and obviously music,” he explains. “Being exposed to so many styles of music has definitely helped my career, and dictated my approach. I’m often told that I have a different style of playing, although I may not realize it. It takes an American to hear the different influences.”

Interesting trivia note: When Pageot was taking weekly piano lesson from a nun, doubling as a piano teacher, the student before him was none other than Justin Trudeau. “He’s a better Prime Minister than he was a pianist,” Pageot quips.