100 Men Hall celebrates hometown great at Booker Fest

BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. (WLOX) - Music filled the air this weekend as Bay St. Louis celebrated hometown musical icon James Booker.

The celebrated pianist died in 1982 at the age of 43, but not before he left his mark on music and his fellow musicians. Today, his name and spirit lives on with the third annual Booker Fest, sponsored by the 100 Men Hall.

“James Booker was the most amazing, talented pianist to come out of New Orleans. He was born there, but he was raised here in Bay St. Louis, and he learned how to play piano here,” said 100 Men Hall Director Rachel Dangermond. “When New Orleans pianists think of pianists that they want to emulate, it’s James Booker.”

Edwin White celebrated his 65th birthday on Saturday with his wife Denise and honored a musician they knew well.

“How can you not like Booker’s music, especially if you’re from New Orleans?” Denise said. “I lived in New Orleans since 1994 and, I mean, what a legend.”

“I would go to Tipitina’s and after 3 o’clock in the morning when they closed, I’m still wanting to party,” he said with a smile. “I would drive to the Maple Leaf Bar. I don’t know how I got there because I was kind of lit up a bit.”

And there was the time he was a volunteer cab driver for the famous pianist.

“There’s more to that story when he drove Booker home that time,” Denise said with a smile to her husband.

“Yes, yes. But we’re not going to go there,” he said.

“Why not? I’m serious. Go ahead. Share it.”

“No,” Edwin said with a laugh. “It’s something I’m taking to the grave.”

Another fan, New Orleans resident Aarafa Payne, visited 100 Men Hall for the first time.

“I said, ‘If they are giving something in regards to James Booker, the two of those together, it’s got to be exciting.’ So, that’s why I’m here.”

And, for her, the acknowledgement of Booker is well deserved.

“The beautiful thing is he got a chance to practice his art, and we are still benefiting from that love that he had for his art,” Payne added. “So, with that, we can share in the celebration of him.”

“We’re paying homage to Booker,” Dangermond said. “And then we’re also doing that to then maintain and preserve this place, which is historic.”

Booker Fest continues Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. with the Booker Drag Brunch.

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Mike Lacy

Mike Lacy

Mike Lacy was a print journalist for 37 years before joining the WLOX team. Most of his career he spent as a writer, editor and page designer at the Sun Herald newspaper.