A life well lived is often the best foundation for compelling art
Jonathan Butler has been blessed with a fascinating life. A South African native whose expansive musical gift has earned accolades in the R&B, contemporary jazz and gospel fields, Butler’s new release Grace and Mercy is filled with the soulful sounds and insightful lyrics fans have come to expect from the veteran performer.
A key word in Butler’s life is balance and after years of touring the globe, he’s learned just how important time away from the spotlight can be. “These days I try to do a little bit of living in between. I balance my life,” he shares. “I’ve got to spend time living, and through living you come up with stories to talk about and songs to write. These songs are personal experiences. People always assume that because you’re a recording artist and you travel the world that you don’t have problems and you don’t have disappointments in your life, which is not true. We all do. This album truthfully and honestly lets people know that the songs that I’m writing are the things that I’m going through in this season. I’m hoping those songs will effect people in a positive and wonderful way.”
Butler has toured the world with such acclaimed artists as Kirk Whalum, Dave Koz and Ruby Turner. He’s earned Grammy nominations and rave reviews in the jazz and R&B fields, but his gospel albums hold a special place in his heart. “It was always a desire that I had,” he says of recording gospel music, “but I never really wanted to do it just for the sake of it. I needed to know that God would release me to do it because it’s a ministry. It changes people’s lives and I wanted to be sure that the Lord would release me to it. I prayed about it for a long time. I waited and then when I got the confirmation, God began giving me these songs. I wrote ‘Falling In Love With Jesus’ and that opened the door for me to walk seamlessly into my ministry.”
Music, ministry, faith and family are all woven joyfully together for Jonathan Butler. His daughter, Jodie, tours with him, sings background vocals on Grace and Mercy, and is an integral part of his ministry. “She is actually working on her own project right now,” the proud father says. “I’m going to be making time to help develop her record. She’s a great writer and she’s working on new songs.
Born in Cape Town, Butler was the youngest of 12 children. He discovered a gift for music early in life and began singing and playing guitar at age 7. As a child, he traveled all over South Africa performing with a troupe of 100 children, getting a first hand look at the country’s disturbing dichotomy—devastating poverty and extreme affluence that existed under Apartheid.
Butler signed his first record deal as a teen and became the first black artist played on white South African stations. “That was 1974 and it was a song titled ‘Please Stay’,” Butler recalls of the historic tune, which won a Sarie Award, the South African equivalent of a Grammy®. “Back then I was with an independent label called CCP Productions.”
Though Butler lived in England for 17 years and currently makes his home in Encino CA, his youth in South Africa continually colors his artistry. “All those memories and all those experiences are what makes a woman or a man a stronger person,” he says. “It influences how they live their lives and their appreciation for life and freedom. That’s what shapes you and gives you that sensitivity of heart. Anyone who grew up in South Africa, or even in the 1960s in America, has a deeper appreciation for life and for freedom. It shapes their lives completely. I feel like all of the stuff that we grew up with in South Africa has made me a better person.”
Butler has a lot to smile about these days. His wife of 30 years survived her battle with cancer, and they enjoy spending time doting on their little granddaughter. “With this record I’m really addressing where the Butler family has been and what we have gone through in 2010 and 2011,” he says. “My inspiration is definitely my family. They support me. They love me and they encourage me. I’m very, very excited about this record. I can’t wait for people to and connect with it because I believe that God has a lot in store for me and I’m heeding the call and obeying God.”
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