Bayou Maharajah:
The Tragic Genius of James Booker

Sun, May 19, 2013, 12:30pm
McMenamins Kennedy School Theater

Bayou Maharajah: The Tragic Genius of James Booker explores the life, times and music of piano legend James Booker, who Dr. John described as “the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced.” Triply marginalized by his race, sexuality and physical disability, Booker still managed to excel as a musician in New Orleans and Europe in the turbulent ‘60 and ‘70s, fusing secular, sacred, pop and classical traditions in breathtaking new ways. A child prodigy who began backing up stars around the age of 16, Booker went on to play with artists ranging from Little Richard to Jerry Garcia. He was a highly sought-out session musician, yet his struggles with bipolar disorder and substance abuse kept interfering with what should have been a trajectory of cascading successes.

Booker was both a tutor and mentor to a very young Harry Connick Jr., who is extensively interviewed in the film along with other musical luminaries including Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas and Charles Neville.

Lily Keber’s engaging documentary richly utilizes a vast amount of archival footage of Booker and mesmerizing montages of New Orleans street life. Her deep love for the music itself is reflected in lush use of extended performance footage.

Though Bayou Maharajah deals minimally with Booker’s sexuality, there is no doubt that we are in the presence of a larger-than-life personality who justifiably proclaimed himself the “Black Liberace.”

Bayou Maharajah: Dir Lily Keber 2013 USA 90 min.

Community Partners: Music Fest Northwest; PFLAG Black Chapter