Lamare started his musical career in New Orleans, working with performers such as Monk Hazel, Johnny Wiggs, and Sharkey Bonano. In 1925, his childhood friend, drummer Ray Bauduc, invited him to join Johnny Bayersdorffer's band, with which he toured in California. After returning to New Orleans, Lamare played in Chicago, New York and Atlantic City with other bands, eventually returning to New Orleans to join the New Orleans Owls. In 1927, he made his recording debut with Wiggs' band, which was known as "John Hyman's Bayou Stompers".
With jobs in New Orleans becoming scarce, Nappy traveled to New York in search of work there. Bandleader Ben Pollack hired Lamare as his guitarist in September 1930 upon Bauduc's recommendation. The Pollack band broke up in late 1934. In 1935, along with Bauduc, Miller, and other former Pollack band members, Lamare founded the Bob Crosby band, with which he played until late 1942. In addition to his role as rhythm guitarist, Lamare was a frequent vocalist with the Crosby band.
In early 1943, he joined Eddie Miller's band in California. Much of Lamare's subsequent career was in the Los Angeles area, where he led his own small groups. In 1947 he became a partial owner, along with two other ex-Crosby sidemen, saxophonists Doc Rando and Ernani Bernardi, of the night club Club 47 in Studio City, near Los Angeles. In 1948, he played briefly with Jimmy Dorsey's band. During his Club 47 days, Lamare broke the little finger of his left hand, which made it difficult for him to play guitar or banjo. As a result of his injury, he switched to bass guitar for a while.
In 1950 Lamare and his band, the Straw Hat Strutters, had a television show called Dixie Showboat and a five year tour. Following the Straw Hat Strutters, he co-led the Riverboat Dandies with Ray Bauduc. During the 1950s and 1960s, he toured the U.S., and in 1956 the Orient. Injuries from a car accident in 1962 interrupted his career, but he resumed playing with Bauduc and also played with Joe Darensbourg and at Disneyland.
In 1986 Lamare moved from Los Angeles to a retirement community in Newhall, California, where he continued to sing and play banjo at the nearby Santa Clarita Jazz Club. The night before his death, he sat in with the amateur band at his retirement community. He died of a heart attack on May 8, 1988, and is buried at the San Fernando Mission Cemetery in San Fernando, California.
Lamare's nickname isn't based on a given name of Napoleon. It's origin was revealed by his son:
- Lamare was christened with the nickname of "Nappy" by his close childhood buddy, Eddie Miller, during the early 1920s. "Dad liked to sleep in late and plus, he had very tight, curly hair," Barry Lamare explained. "So Eddie used to refer to my dad as being 'nappy-headed.'"
- Stephen Fratallone, Snappy Nappy — Nappy Lamare Centennial Looks At Guitarist's Legacy To Dixieland, in Jazz Connection Magazine, June–July 2005. Although Lamre's given name appears as "Hilton" in the census, as "Hilton Napoleon" in Chilton and Yanow, and as "Hilton Joseph" on his death certificate, his son Barry Lamare told Fratallone that it was actually "Joseph Hilton Lamare".
- Although some sources, such as Chilton and Yanow, give a 1907 birth date, a five-year-old "Hilton Lamare" was enumerated in the United States census in 1910 at 1125 Dumaine St., and a fourteen-year-old "Hilton Lemare" in 1920, at 1321 Columbus Street in New Orleans, living with his parents Joseph and Josephine – "ancestry.com". ancestry.com (a subscription site). Retrieved 2011-07-02.
- California death record for "Hilton Joseph Lamare", retrieved 2010-07-05, which lists a 1905-06-14 birth date
- Scott Yanow, Nappy Lamare at Allmusic
- John Chilton, Who's Who of Jazz, Storyville to Swing Street, Time-Life Records Special Edition, page 190, 1978