“bayou maharaja” explores the unbelievable life and music of openly-gay piano legend james booker

March 17, 2017

Bayou Maharajah takes us on a roller-coaster through the life and times of openly-gay piano legend James Booker. By New Orleans based documentary director, producer and educator Lily Keber, the film gives viewers a look into how Booker’s notorious struggles addiction, depression and schizophrenia contributed to his legend, but never overshadowed his genius.

Once described as “the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced” by musician Dr. John, Booker played with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Fats Domino, Wilson Picket, Dizzy Gillespie, Ringo Starr and Jerry Garcia throughout his career. Bayou Maharaja traces his life from his beginnings as a chart-topping child prodigy, with first-person narrators leading us through Booker’s unforgettable onstage performances (sometimes in his underwear!). The film uses archival footage, interviews from Harry Connick Jr., Dr. John, Irma Thomas, Allen Toussaint and others to bring the unbelievable story to life.

The documentary has already won a slew of awards, including Best Southern Film (Oxford American), Best Louisiana Feature (New Orleans Film Festival), Jury Mention (New Orleans Film Festival), Grand Jury Prize (Fairhope Film Festival) and a Paramount Award (Asbury Park Music in Film Festival). Check out the trailer and a brand new except below!

By Hari Ziyad*, AFROPUNK Contributor


Brand new excerpt:


*Hari Ziyad is a New York based storyteller and writer for AFROPUNK. They are also the editor-in-chief of RaceBaitR, deputy editor of Black Youth Project, and assistant editor of Vinyl Poetry & Prose. You can follow them on Twitter @hariziyad.