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Spartan Profiles: Henry Butler

  • Author:
    Robert Bao
  • Published:
    Fall 2007


            Long considered the finest all-around pianist in New Orleans, he has been nominated seven times for the W.C. Handy “Best Blues Instrumentalist-Piano” Award and has many albums and CDs to his credit.  The musical genius of Henry Butler, MMUS ’74, is extraordinary when you realize that he was blinded by glaucoma at birth.  Butler studied piano, drums, baritone saxophone, valve trombone and voice, began playing professionally at 14, and was mentored by jazz giant Alvin Batiste.  

            One critic says of his music:  “It rocks, it rolls, it struts . . . and it’s based in the blues and the Creole traditions of his native New Orleans.”  But Henry, who moved to Colorado after the Katrina hurricane destroyed his home, says his music reflects “everything I have ever heard or studied—early jazz, traditional jazz, bebop, post-bop, funky, and rhythm and blues.” 

            He currently tours with the New Orleans Social Club, a band formed after Katrina, and is working on a live, solo CD being produced for Sony by George Winston. His last album, Homeland, was released in 2004. 

            Henry chose to attend MSU over Yale.  “I enjoyed MSU,” he recalls.  “The people were wonderful and receptive.  I played in a lot of nightclubs, which helped me through school.  But it was not always an easy time. I learned to shrug off a lot of things and keep moving, and that has served me well.”  

            Henry also likes to teach—he taught at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, where both Wynton and Branford Marsalis studied, and his hobby is photography.  Indeed, he’s had many exhibitions around the country.  “In 1984 I decided I wanted to participate in the world of visual arts,” he explains.  “I bought an auto-focus camera and figured out how to express my intuition. Wherever I heard sounds, I’d aim and shoot.  I got a lot of good pictures, believe it or not!”