ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



He was a wild character, often leaving in the middle of a set or haranguing the audience

with his theories of philosophy, the legalization of drugs and the CIA



James Booker Albums

Spiders on the Keys  /  Junco Partner  /  New Orleans Piano Wizard: Live! 

 Resurrection of the Bayou Maharajah

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James Booker


By  David Kunian


They called him Little Booker, the Bayou Maharajah, The Piano Prince of New Orleans and just simply Booker. He lived from 1939 until 1983 and was the best pianist anyone ever heard. His fingers going across the keys looked like a nest of spiders let loose on the piano. His voice was possessed with the soul of someone trying to make sense of all the turmoil and pain of his life and yours. When he played the piano, any and all songs could come from the notes. Everything from the Godfather theme to the works Ernesto Lecuona to Beethoven to the rawest, gutbucket, junker blues of back o’ town New Orleans, many times all in the same song.

He was a wild character, often leaving in the middle of a set or haranguing the audience with his theories of philosophy, the legalization of drugs and the CIA. When he got onstage, those lucky witnesses saw the grand questions that writers, musicians, poets and thinkers have been contemplating since the beginning of time: What is the line between genius and madness? Music and beauty and art? What is the nature of tragedy and joy and how do they dance together?

However, the bottom line was the music. It was beautiful and intense, dark and light, focused and crazed, always technically and creatively the work of genius. James Booker’s music is music that changes the lives of everyone who heard and still hears it. There are recordings of him on several labels including Rounder, DJM and Aves. He can also be heard playing with Aretha Franklin, Fats Domino, Earl King, The Coasters, Ray Charles, Lionel Hampton and Lloyd Price. Pianists influenced by him include Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Harry Connick, Jr., George Winston, Art Neville, Jon Cleary, Tom McDermott and Joshua Paxton. And now the entire catalog of Booker’s music is available from the Don Williams Music Group.

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James_Booker_-_NPR.mp3  / One_Hell_of_a_Nerve.mp3

Reviving James Booker The ‘Piano Prince Of New Orleans’—Gwen Thompkins—31 March  2012—Every day in New Orleans, Lily Keber rolls out of bed and walks to a flat, minor office building to meet her muse. Keber makes a cup of coffee with chicory, hooks up her computer and waits for what sounds like a dozen spiders to crawl across a piano. Keber is making Bayou Maharajah, a documentary about the black, gay, one-eyed junkie, James Booker, the “Piano Prince of New Orleans.” Booker, who tutored Dr. John and Harry Connick Jr., was the first to call his fingers “spiders on the keys.”

“James Booker was one of our country’s greatest piano players,” Keber says. “You can find musicians who are good at classical, and you can find musicians who are good at street music. But it’s a special breed who can master both.” A classical-music prodigy as a child, Booker grew up to originate a style of piano playing that few can emulate. Everything from his delivery of Chopin‘s “Minute Waltz” to his rendition of “Black Night” highlighted his talent: spiders on the keys, heart on his sleeve. But in a town where soul queen Irma Thomas stands next to you at the dry cleaner and Dr. John turns up at the grocery store, people often take their musical legends for granted.

Sometimes it takes an outsider like Lily Keber to remind everyone that genius is rare. Keber was born in North Carolina and schooled in Georgia. She moved to New Orleans just a few years ago. “I knew Dr. John, I knew Irma Thomas, I knew The Meters. I knew the big names. And I didn’t know James Booker at all. I had never heard the name,” Keber says. “So when it eventually started to dawn on me that he was a real guy and he really did play this amazing music that’s coming out of the jukebox, that sort of floored me. . . .

Booker was also a sideman for Aretha Franklin, The Doobie Brothers, Ringo Starr and Lloyd Price. But apart from some childhood recordings, he released only three albums in his lifetime. His addictions—heroin, cocaine, alcohol—got the better of him. “Booker wanted to be famous, but he didn’t behave like someone who really wants to be well known,” Keber says. “He didn’t show up for gigs. And if he did show up, would he be in the mood to play? He really was frustrated by the fact that he couldn’t make it, but he didn’t do himself any favors.”

David Torkanowsky, a jazz pianist and bandleader, says Booker’s habits were extreme. “I remember there was a regular Tuesday night Booker solo at Tipitina’s. Finally, the lights dim and Booker walks out to the middle microphone on stage. He was wearing nothing but a huge diaper with a huge gold pin holding up the diaper,” Torkanowsky says, “and from behind the diaper he pulls out a .357 magnum, puts it to his own head and announces to the audience, ‘If somebody doesn’t give me some [expletive] cocaine right now, I’m going to [expletive] pull the trigger. It went from ‘Can’t wait to hear him play’ to ‘Oh my God.'”—npr

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James Carroll Booker III (December 17, 1939 – November 8, 1983) was a

New Orleans rhythm and blues musician born in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States. Booker’s unique style combined rhythm and blues with jazz standards. Booker was the son and grandson of Baptist ministers, both of whom played the piano. He spent most of his childhood on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where his father pastored a church. Booker received a saxophone as a gift from his mother, but he demonstrated a stronger interest in the keyboard. He first played organ in his father’s churches.

After returning to New Orleans in his early

adolescence, Booker attended the Xavier Academy Preparatory School. He learned some elements of his keyboard style from Tuts Washington and Edward Frank. Booker was highly skilled in classical music and played Bach and Chopin, among other composers. He also mastered and memorized solos by Erroll Garner, and Liberace. His thorough background in piano literature may have enabled his original and virtuosic interpretations of jazz and other popular music. These performances combined elements of stride, blues, gospel and Latin piano styles.

Booker made his

recording debut in 1954 on the Imperial label, with “Doin’ the Hambone” and “Thinkin’ ‘Bout My Baby.” This led to some session work with Fats Domino, Smiley Lewis, and Lloyd Price. In 1958, Arthur Rubinstein gave a concert in New Orleans. Afterwards, eighteen-year-old Booker was introduced to the concert pianist and played several tunes for him. Rubinstein was astonished, saying “I could never play that . . . never at that tempo.” (The Times-Picayune, 1958) Booker also became known for his flamboyant personality amongst his peers.After recording a few other singles, he enrolled as an undergraduate in Southern University‘s music department. In 1960, Booker’s “Gonzo” reached number 43 on the U.S. Billboard chart, and number 3 on the R&B chart. This was followed by some moderately successful singles. In the 1960s, he turned to drugs, and in 1970 served a brief sentence in Angola Prison for possession. . . .

At the end of October, 1983, film-maker Jim Gabour captured Booker’s final concert performance. The footage from the

Maple Leaf Bar in New Orleans was broadcast on Cox Cable and a six-and-a-half-minute improvisation, “Seagram’s Jam,” featured on Gabour’s film—All Alone with the Blues. Booker died ten days later, on November 8, 1983, while seated in a wheelchair, waiting to be seen at the emergency room at New Orleans Charity Hospital. The cause of death was renal failure. (Orleans Parish Coroner’s Death Certificate). His death was mourned by music lovers, but was unsurprising to those who were aware of his life-long history of serious drug abuse and chronic alcoholism.—Wikipedia

James Booker on youTube

James Booker: St. James Infirmary / James Booker: Instrumental Ten Days Before Death

James Booker: True, Montreaux, 1978 James Booker: Papa Was a Rascal

James Booker: On the Sunny Side of the Street / James Booker: Classified / James Booker Medley

James Booker: Gonzo, 1960 / James Booker: Ain’t Nobody’s Business / James Booker: Goodnight Irene

James Booker: Tipitina Loberta / James Booker: Let Them Talk / James Booker—Slow Down/ Knock on Wood/ Heard it Through the Grapevine

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



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Black Americans in Congress, 1870-2007

By Matthew Wasniewski

Black Americans in Congress, 1870–2007— beautifully prepared volume—is a comprehensive history of the more than 120 African Americans who have served in the United States Congress. Written for a general audience, this book contains a profile of each African-American Member, including notables such as Hiram Revels, Joseph Rainey, Oscar De Priest, Adam Clayton Powell, Shirley Chisholm, Gus Hawkins, and Barbara Jordan. Individual profiles are introduced by contextual essays that explain major events in congressional and U.S. history. Part I provides four chronologically organized chapters under the heading “Former Black Members of Congress.” Each chapter provides a lengthy biographical sketch of the members who served during the period addressed, along with a narrative historical account of the era and tables of information about the Congress during that time. Part II provides similar information about current African-American members. There are 10 appendixes providing tabular information of a variety of sorts about the service of Black members, including such things as a summary list, service on committees and in party leadership posts, familial connections, and so forth. The entire volume is 803 large folio pages in length and there are many illustrations. The book should be part of every library and research collection, and congressional scholars may well wish to obtain it for their personal libraries.—Pictures—including rarely seen historical images—of each African American who has served in Congress—Bibliographies and references to manuscript collections for each Member—Statistical graphs and charts

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Faces At The Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism

By Derrick Bell

In nine grim metaphorical sketches, Bell, the black former Harvard law professor who made headlines recently for his one-man protest against the school’s hiring policies, hammers home his controversial theme that white racism is a permanent, indestructible component of our society. Bell’s fantasies are often dire and apocalyptic: a new Atlantis rises from the ocean depths, sparking a mass emigration of blacks; white resistance to affirmative action softens following an explosion that kills Harvard’s president and all of the school’s black professors; intergalactic space invaders promise the U.S. President that they will clean up the environment and deliver tons of gold, but in exchange, the bartering aliens take all African Americans back to their planet. Other pieces deal with black-white romance, a taxi ride through Harlem and job discrimination. Civil rights lawyer Geneva Crenshaw, the heroine of Bell’s And We Are Not Saved (1987), is back in some of these ominous allegories, which speak from the depths of anger and despair. Bell now teaches at New York University Law School.—Publishers Weekly /  Derrick Bell Law Rights Advocate  Dies at 80

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The Looting of America: How Wall Street’s Game of Fantasy Finance

Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity—and What We Can Do About It

By Les Leopold

How could the best and brightest (and most highly paid) in finance crash the global economy and then get us to bail them out as well? What caused this mess in the first place? Housing? Greed? Dumb politicians? What can Main Street do about it? In The Looting of America, Leopold debunks the prevailing media myths that blame low-income home buyers who got in over their heads, people who ran up too much credit-card debt, and government interference with free markets. Instead, readers will discover how Wall Street undermined itself and the rest of the economy by playing and losing at a highly lucrative and dangerous game of fantasy finance. He also asks some tough questions:  Why did Americans let the gap between workers’ wages and executive compensation grow so large? Why did we fail to realize that the excess money in those executives’ pockets was fueling casino-style investment schemes? Why did we buy the notion that too-good-to-be-true financial products that no one could even understand would somehow form the backbone of America’s new, postindustrial economy? How do we make sure we never give our wages away to gamblers again? And what can we do to get our money back? In this page-turning narrative (no background in finance required) Leopold tells the story of how we fell victim to Wall Street’s exotic financial products. Readers learn how even school districts were taken in by “innovative” products like collateralized debt obligations, better known as CDOs, and how they sucked trillions of dollars from the global economy when they failed. They’ll also learn what average Americans can do to ensure that fantasy finance never rules our economy again. The Economy

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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