Share this project


Share this project

Bayou Maharajah: The Tragic Genius of James Booker's video poster

Explores the life and music of James Booker, "the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced". Read more

pledged of $15,000 goal
seconds to go


This project was successfully funded on January 15, 2013.

Explores the life and music of James Booker, "the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced".

About this project


"Bayou Maharajah" is a feature-length documentary on the life, times and music of New Orleans piano legend James Booker.
Booker's genius defies easy explanation. He is, first and foremost, one of America's finest piano players. Period. Booker combined his classical training with an encyclopedic knowledge of music and filtered this through a singular take on that distinct New Orleans blend of funk, gospel, blues, R&B, gutbucket, and street syncopations. He never played the same set twice. His off-the-cuff medleys could blend a Rachmaninoff tune with Sinatra, dip into some Fats Domino, take a detour through the Afro-Caribbean roots of New Orleans and end up in the first-row pew of a Catholic church. Dr. John told me that Booker is the only guy he ever knew who would play a song with every verse in a different key.

On top of this musical brilliance, Booker was one of the most outrageous characters New Orleans has ever known (and that's sayin' something). He might show up at a gig dressed only in a diaper and a police cap and refuse to play a single note until someone brought him drugs. Plagued with mental illness, he would hallucinate, hear voices, and had extreme paranoia about the CIA's and the mafia's plots against him. Self-proclaimed as the Piano Pope, he used the piano bench as his pulpit, expounding on his views on Louisiana's incarceration policy, racism, the multiple-offender act, how the busses were running, or anything else that irked him.
The film is entirely shot and editing is nearly complete. If we can meet our Kickstarter goal, we'll be on target to get "Bayou Maharajah" into film festivals for Spring 2013 and then (fingers crossed) to a theatre near you!

Interviews already filmed include:
Harry Connick, Jr., Hugh Laurie, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, Charles Neville, Cosimo Matassa, Harry Connick Sr., Joe Boyd, Bunny Matthews, Ron Cuccia, Joshua Paxton, Tom McDermott, Reggie Scanlan, Ronald Markham, George Winston, David Kunian, Brobson Lutz, Lee Madere, Jim Sheurich, James Singleton, Johnny Vidacovich, Scott Billington, Dr. Bruce Raeburn, Tom Stagg.

I've traveled across the US and Europe, searching for every scrap and shred of concert footage, home movie, funky photo and unreleased audio that I can find. Now that I have this wealth of material, I want to use it! All the money raised in the Kickstarter will go towards licensing costs so that I can include all this in the film. If we fail to meet our 15k goal, I'm going to have to start cutting out chunks of concert footage and shortening songs. This will be a travesty. After so many years of simmering in obscurity, it's time for James Booker to be introduced to the world!

Even if you can't donate right now, you can still help out and get involved. The #1 best thing you can do is TELL YOUR FRIENDS! Share the link on your Facebook and Twitter. And while you're there, 'like' us at or follow us @ivoryemperor. Call up your BFF and tell them about the awesome James Booker film you just saw. Write a letter to your Grannie and ask her if she remembers Booker. Talk to your neighbor and get them to tell you that story about the time they saw Booker at the Maple Leaf. And most importantly: encourage everyone to get involved with the fundraiser!
I know it sounds corny, but it's true: a personal endorsement from you will mean so much more than all the emails, newsletters, and radio interviews I can send out. If you're a closet James Booker fan, now is the time to come out and announce it to the world!

Everyone who donates to this Kickstarter- no matter how large or small a donation- will be thanked on our Facebook page. You're not just backing a film;  you're joining a group of totally dedicated, ravenous James Booker fans who believe that his artistic contribution deserves to be brought to (inter)national attention.



You all probably know about me (Lily) already. If you'd like to read more, my bio is listed over on the right hand column. Here's a bit about the rest of our crew:

Nathaniel Kohn, Producer.
Dr. Nathaniel Kohn is a professor at the University of Georgia and Associate Director of the George Foster Peabody Awards, considered to be the highest award in the electronic media. He is also festival director of Roger Ebert's Film Festival, hosted by film critic Roger Ebert. Dr. Kohn's credits as Producer include the Academy Award nominated Zulu Dawn starring Burt Lancaster and Peter O’Toole; the independent feature Somebodies, which premiered in competition at Sundance (2006); Rain, Bahamas’ first indigenous feature which premiered on Showtime (2010); the feature film Bottleworld (2010); and the BET television series Somebodies (2008).

Amy Rodrigue, Associate Producer.
Amy is a Louisiana native. She spent six years in Los Angeles working on music documentaries including Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him?) and Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of Smile, as well as A&E Biographies on Bette Midler & Andy Williams.  Amy produced the "Brokeback Mountain Collector's Edition DVD" and worked on numerous EPKs.  Since moving back to Louisiana in 2009, she has worked as Production Coordinator on many films including Transit and as Production Manager for The Real World Portland.  However, her true love remains music documentaries.

Ted Morée, Associate Producer.
Ted studied media production at the University of North Carolina.  He moved to New Orleans with his wife and dog in 2010, where he currently works as a freelancer on a variety of productions.  Ted is a founding member of the fledgling production company FosterBear Films.  He enjoys documenting (and participating in) New Orleans music and culture.

David White, Director of Photography.
David was Director of Photography on Behind-The-Scenes of the Treme for HBO, feature documentary Salt Dreams, the award-winning short film Cell Phone Psycho, and on music videos for artists such as Katey Red, Pearl Jam, Stromkern, and Andy Overslaugh. His filmed subjects include Dave Navarro, Steve Earl, Tim Robbins, Dr. John, and Terence Blanchard. David is Director of Photography for Preservation Jazz Hall, the foremost traditional jazz venue in New Orleans.  He has worked as Camera Operator for Microsoft, Acura Automotive, Pepsi, Vimby, TurnHere, Current TV, and WDSU.

Eric Laws, Location sound recording.
Eric has provided location sound recording for over a dozen feature films, including The Big Uneasy (2010) directed by Harry Shearer and starring John Goodman, the documentary Urbanized directed by Gary Hustwit (2011), Subject I Love You (2011) starring Briana Evigan, The Power Of Few (2011) starring Christopher Walken and Christian Slater, No Exit (2008) starring Blanchard Ryan, and Little Chenier (2006). He is the official sound engineer of the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities and was the engineer for the Tennessee Williams Festival from 2004-07. Eric has worked as an audio engineer for WWOZ and WRBH and the Historic New Orleans Collection.

Risks and challenges

This film has been a risk and a challenge from the start. One of the problems with Booker is that despite his monster talent, he never got well-known in his lifetime. So making a film about an obscure piano player in America thirty years after his death has always presented some challenges. Despite this, though, we've managed to craft a film that (I hope!) captures the vitality, the levity, and the intense brilliance of a man whose artistic vision deserves to be better known.

Let's put it this way: this has never been an easy film to make. It hasn't been easy to film, it hasn't been easy to fund, it hasn't been easy to research, and it hasn't been easy to edit. Most likely, it won't be easy to get it into festivals, it won't be easy to market it, and it won't be easy to get it noticed. But with St. James Booker guiding the way, we know it'll be a helluva ride and a helluva a good time. I invite you to hop aboard this crazy and bumpy train, strap on your seat belt, and let's go have some fun.

Learn about accountability on Kickstarter


Have a question? If the info above doesn't help, you can ask the project creator directly.

Ask a question


  • You selected
    Pledge $5 or more

    28 backers

    Bayou Maharajah postcard, signed by director Lily Keber

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $10 or more

    47 backers

    Bayou Maharajah sticker, mailed to your door.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $20 or more

    27 backers

    A beer coozie! Yes, that's right. We've had James Booker beer coozies specially-designed for this Kickstarter. Get 'em while you can!

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $40 or more

    7 backers

    Bayou Maharajah tote bag. Show your support of the film and love of the music with this exclusive James Booker tote bag, large enough to hold your vinyl but small enough to still cram in your purse or pocket.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $50 or more

    86 backers

    Bayou Maharajah t-shirt. 100% cotton. Jet black with the Bayou Maharajah design printed in vivid red and white. Super soft cotton. I love this shirt.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $100 or more

    11 backers

    Get all of the above! The total Booker fan package! Get the tshirt, the tote bag, the beer coozie, the sticker, the post card, and whatever other Booker lagniappe we have laying around the studio.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $200 or more

    3 backers All gone!

    Signed and numbered print of painting by artist Ann deLorge.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $500 or more

    6 backers Limited (4 left of 10)

    Spend an evening with director Lily Keber. Home-cooked dinner with live music provided by some of New Orleans finest musicians.
    (Note: this dinner will be held in New Orleans. If you're out of town, you'll need to provide your own travel and accommodations)

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $1,000 or more

    4 backers

    You get everything above, plus two VIP tickets to a screening of your choice.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $1,500 or more

    0 backers Limited (2 left of 2)

    Original signed and numbered 1997 "Piano Prince of New Orleans" Offbeat poster. Designed by Lolet Boutte. See picture in "Updates" section. You also get all the gifts listed above.

    (note: this posters have never been rolled. I will be shipping them in a tube. If you would like to pick them up from me flat, please specify when you send me your address).

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $10,000

    0 backers

    This Kickstarter is to help defray the costs of the music and video licensing. However, it won't solve all our fundraising needs. If you'd like to get involved with the film on a deeper level, contact me and let's talk!

    Estimated delivery:

Funding period

- (35 days)