December 17, 1939 – November 8, 1983
What separated James Booker from the countless other New Orleans pianists of his era was that he was a virtuoso on the instrument and could just as easily play classical as he could R&B, blues and jazz. In 1949, Booker made his first record for the storied Imperial Records and was soon doing session work for the likes of Fats Domino and Lloyd Price. He was just 15. Booker released a handful of records during the early ’60s, but he was struggling with a growing drug habit. His career hit an upswing in the mid ’70s, when he wowed the crowd at the 1975 New Orleans Jazzfest. That resulted in a record deal with the respected Island Records and tours with the likes of Jerry Garcia. He made several more acclaimed albums and became a popular concert draw in Europe up through the early ’80s. On November 8, 1983, James Booker died in a New Orleans hospital of kidney failure likely brought on by years of drug and alcohol abuse. He was 47.