Henry Butler

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Henry Butler
Henry Butler.jpg
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]
LabelsImpulse!, Windham Hill, Basin Street

Henry Butler (September 21, 1948 – July 2, 2018) was an American jazz pianist and photographer. Known for his technical skills at the piano, particularly versatile with both hands, Butler excelled in a number of sub-genres of jazz throughout his career.


He was known for his technique and his ability to play in many styles of music. In 1987, New York Times music critic Jon Pareles wrote that Butler "revels in fluency and facility, splashing chords all over the keyboard and streaking through solos with machine-gun articulation.[2] In 1998, Chicago Tribune arts critic Howard Reich described Butler as "an enormous intellect matched by unusual physical strength."[3] Referred to by Dr. John as "the pride of New Orleans," Butler was his generation's representative in the Crescent City's lineage of piano players such as Professor Longhair, James Booker, Tuts Washington, and Jelly Roll Morton.

Butler recorded for several record labels, including Impulse, Windham Hill, and Basin Street Records.

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.[4] His musical training began at the Louisiana State School for the Blind, where he learned to play valve trombone, baritone horn and drums before focusing his talents on singing and piano.[5] Butler was mentored at Southern University, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, by clarinetist and educator Alvin Batiste.[6] 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.[7]

In the wake of Katrina's damage, Butler left New Orleans and briefly relocated to Colorado, living first in Boulder and then Denver. He later spoke of that Colorado period as "a trying exile."[8] In 2009, Butler relocated again to New York City.

Butler pursued photography as a hobby since 1984, as an outgrowth of attending art exhibits in Los Angeles and asking friends to describe featured works.[9] His methods and photos were featured in an HBO2 documentary, Dark Light: The Art of Blind Photographers, that aired in 2010.[10] Butler's photographs were also shown in galleries in New Orleans.[11]

Butler died of end-stage cancer in New York City on July 2, 2018 at the age of 69.[12]


  • Fivin' Around (1986)
  • The Village (1988)
  • Orleans Inspiration (1990)
  • Blues & More (1992)
  • For All Seasons (1996)
  • Blues After Sunset (1998)
  • The Game Has Just Begun (2002)
  • Homeland (2004)
  • PiaNOLA Live (2008)

With James Carter

With Corey Harris

With Steven Bernstein


  1. ^ "New Orleans Blues : Significant Albums, Artists and Songs, Most Viewed". AllMusic. Retrieved 2013-03-18.
  2. ^ Jazz: Henry Butler. The New York Times, July 30, 1987.
  3. ^ Henry Butler Nearly Peerless at the Piano. Chicago Tribune, September 27, 1998.
  4. ^ Spartan Saga: Henry Butler. Michigan State Alumni Magazine, December 19, 2011.
  5. ^ Mallernee, Ellen (June 30, 2008). "Piano Man Henry Butler Remembers Not to Forget New Orleans". Gibson.com.
  6. ^ At Jazz Standard, New Orleans's Loss is New York's Gain. The Wall Street Journal, November 2, 2011.
  7. ^ His Piano Destroyed in Hurricane Katrina, Blind Pianist Henry Butler in Trenton to 'Uplift'. The Trentonian, February 28, 2008.
  8. ^ At Jazz Standard, New Orleans's Loss is New York's Gain. The Wall Street Journal, November 2, 2011.
  9. ^ Blind Blues Pianist Henry Butler Doubles as Photo Artist. Brett Martel, The Associated Press, as published in the Indiana Daily Student, May 16, 2005.
  10. ^ Henry Butler Profiled in Documentary About Blind Photographers. New Orleans Times-Picayune, November 16, 2010.
  11. ^ Knight, Brian. "The Butler Did It: An Interview with pianist Henry Butler". The Vermont Review. Retrieved 2010-05-29.
  12. ^ 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.

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