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Spartan Saga: Henry Butler

Truly wonderful music and art are born of skill and heart. Alumnus Henry Butler knows a lot about that.
Published on: 12/19/2011
Henry Butler

Name: Henry Butler

Affiliation: Alumnus, 1974

Current Residence: Brooklyn, New York

He lost his sight as an infant and says he harnesses emotional energy to inspire, uplift and encourage, whether playing jazz piano or capturing images for photographic compositions. The New Orleans native mastered a number of instruments at the Louisiana State School for the Blind in Baton Rouge before earning a master’s degree in vocal music from Michigan State University.

Butler transcends labels and limitations. He performs his acclaimed and eclectic jazz nationally and internationally, and his photographs are exhibited throughout the country.

Henry Butler plays it by heart.

“Everything that I do when I’m creating music is based on intuition,” says Butler. “Intuition sparks the emotions.”

Henry Butler lost his sight from glaucoma when he was a baby.

“By the time the doctors realized what I had, it was too late to do anything for the eyes. So they wound up taking them out.”

He says his art and his spirit comes from something no one can touch or see. It’s something that lets his creativity soar and the rules slip away.

“There’s an energy within me that is superior to any energy that I will know—that I will understand—outside of me,” says Butler. “I know that when it’s in force, it works. And it doesn’t have any boundaries.”

Those boundaries, those rules, vanish when it comes to his music and his photography.

“I tell people that I’m a photographer. I’m interested in capturing and creating compositions using images. Past that, I let other people describe it. First of all, I can’t see it. And I’m probably more aware of that than anybody else, so I’m not trying to fool people. I feel like any piano I sit in front of is my instrument. I don’t care who owns it. I don’t care who bought it. That doesn’t matter. 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. 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.”

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