Henry Butler

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.

Henry Butler
Henry Butler in 2015
Henry Butler in 2015
Background information
Born(1948-09-21)September 21, 1948
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
DiedJuly 2, 2018(2018-07-02) (aged 69)
New York City, New York, U.S.
GenresJazz, New Orleans blues[1]
LabelsMCA, Windham Hill, Basin Street


Henry Butler after opening for B.B. King at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, California, in January 2007

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.[2]

Butler was mentored at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, by clarinetist and educator Alvin Batiste.[3] 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.[4]

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."[5] 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.[6] Butler's photographs were shown in galleries in New Orleans.[7]

Butler died of cancer in New York City on July 2, 2018 at the age of 69.[8]


Butler 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.[9] In 1998, critic Howard Reich of the Chicago Tribune described Butler as "an enormous intellect matched by unusual physical strength."[10]


As leaderEdit


  1. ^ "New Orleans Blues". AllMusic. Retrieved 2013-03-18.
  2. ^ Mallernee, Ellen (June 30, 2008). "Piano Man Henry Butler Remembers Not to Forget New Orleans". Gibson.com. Archived from the original on July 3, 2018. Retrieved July 28, 2013.
  3. ^ At Jazz Standard, New Orleans's Loss is New York's Gain. The Wall Street Journal, November 2, 2011.
  4. ^ His Piano Destroyed in Hurricane Katrina, Blind Pianist Henry Butler in Trenton to 'Uplift'. The Trentonian, February 28, 2008.
  5. ^ At Jazz Standard, New Orleans's Loss is New York's Gain. The Wall Street Journal, November 2, 2011.
  6. ^ Henry Butler Profiled in Documentary About Blind Photographers. New Orleans Times-Picayune, November 16, 2010.
  7. ^ Knight, Brian. "The Butler Did It: An Interview with pianist Henry Butler". The Vermont Review. Retrieved 2010-05-29.
  8. ^ Pareles, Jon (July 4, 2018). "Henry Butler, Quintessential New Orleans Pianist, Is Dead at 69". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2018-07-05. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  9. ^ Jazz: Henry Butler. The New York Times, July 30, 1987.
  10. ^ Henry Butler Nearly Peerless at the Piano. Chicago Tribune, September 27, 1998.
  11. ^ "Henry Butler | Album Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved 26 January 2019.

External linksEdit