James Carroll Booker III was an American rhythm and blues musician who was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was known for combining rhythm and blues with jazz standards. He had a very flamboyant type personality. Booker was the grandson of a Baptist ministers, both whom played the piano. He grew up his childhood in Mississippi, where his father was the pastor of a church. Booker received his first saxophone as a gift from his mother. However, his passion was for playing the keyboard. His father played the organ for his church.
During his adolescence years he attended the Xavier Academy Preparatory School in New Orleans. There he learned a lot about keyboard and style. He became highly skilled and could play pieces from composers Bach and Chopin. He played so well he was nicknamed the “#Black Liberace.”
Booker first recordings were debuted in 1954 on the Imperial Records label, with “Doin’ the Hambone” and “Thinkin’ Bout My Baby.” He played with great musical artists such as Fats Domino and Smiley Lewis. He developed new variations on the basic boogie-woogie left-hand patterns, inventing at least a half-dozen such modes. 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 United States (U.S.) record chart of Billboard magazine and number 3 on the R&B record chart.
Unfortunately, Booker also became familiar with law enforcement in New Orleans due to his illicit drug use. Booker had a prison sentence nullified because he provided piano lessons for his legal counsel’s young son. In 1975 Booker’s performance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival earned him a recording contract with Island Records. He gained a lot of attention at the festival from studio scouts for showing up with his outlandish cape, golden starred eye patch, and a wig.
“Booker released five albums during his lifetime, all initially issued by European labels. Among these releases, Junco Partner (1976), New Orleans Piano Wizard: Live! (1977), and two 1976 recordings, Blues and Ragtime from New Orleans and Piano Prince from New Orleans, find him at his very best. A dozen or so albums of varying audio quality have appeared posthumously.” (Bayou Mahahajah)
Booker died aged 43 on November 8, 1983, while seated in a wheelchair in the emergency room at New Orleans’ Charity Hospital, waiting to receive medical attention. The cause of death, as cited in the Orleans Parish Coroner’s Death Certificate, was renal failure that was related to his chronic history of heroin and alcohol use.