Henry Butler in 2015
|Born||September 21, 1948|
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
|Died||July 2, 2018 (aged 69)|
New York City
|Genres||Jazz, New Orleans blues|
|Labels||MCA, Windham Hill, Basin Street|
Henry Butler (September 21, 1948 – July 2, 2018) was an American jazz and blues pianist. He learned piano, drums, and saxophone in school. He received a college degree and graduate degree and taught at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts. He worked as a soloist and in groups in Los Angeles and New York City. Despite his blindness, he spent time as a photographer and had his work exhibited in galleries.
Butler was blinded by glaucoma in infancy. His musical training began at the Louisiana State School for the Blind, where he learned to play valve trombone, baritone horn, and drums before concentrating on singing and piano.
Butler was mentored at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, by clarinetist and educator Alvin Batiste. Butler later earned a master's degree in music at Michigan State University in 1974 and received the MSU Distinguished Alumni Award in 2009.
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated Butler's home in the Gentilly section of New Orleans. His 1925 vintage Mason & Hamlin piano was wrecked by flood waters that rose to nearly eight feet inside his house.
In the wake of Katrina's damage, Butler left New Orleans and moved to Boulder, Colorado, then Denver. He spoke of the Colorado period as "a trying exile." In 2009, Butler moved to New York City.
Beginning in 1984, Butler pursued photography as a hobby after attending art exhibits in Los Angeles and asking friends to describe what they saw. His methods and photos were featured in the HBO2 documentary Dark Light: The Art of Blind Photographers that aired in 2010. Butler's photographs were shown in galleries in New Orleans.
Butler died of cancer in New York City on July 2, 2018 at the age of 69.
He was known for his technique and his ability to play in many styles of music. In 1987, music critic Jon Pareles of The New York Times wrote that Butler "revels in fluency and facility, splashing chords all over the keyboard and streaking through solos with machine-gun articulation. In 1998, critic Howard Reich of the Chicago Tribune described Butler as "an enormous intellect matched by unusual physical strength."
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