After a battle with advanced-stage cancer, New Orleans piano legend Henry Butler has passed away on July 2. He was 69.
Blinded by infantile glaucoma, Butler was extraordinarily talented at reading Braille, memorizing musical movements and teaching himself how to play piano.
He was a regular presence on the NOLA jazz and blues scene, and he also performed at the first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage festival in 1970.
Dr. John once referred to Butler as “the pride of New Orleans,” and in his 69 years he released nine records, as well as three collaborative LPs with James Carter, Corey Harris and Steven Bernstein respectively.
“For the time I’m sitting at that piano, it’s mine, and I get to command that piano. It’s an inanimate object until I start playing it. And when I start playing it, when I move my fingers up and down the keys and those hammers are struck, that piano produces energy that brings it alive. And I’m happy to be the one that commands it,” Butler “told Michigan State’s alumni magazine in 2011.” “Some people will call it God; some people will call it other things. I don’t care what you call it. I know that when it’s in force, it works. And it doesn’t have any boundaries; it doesn’t say you’re supposed to play gospel music or you are supposed to play jazz or you’re supposed to play country. It says you play anything you damn well want to play. And that’s what I do.”