Thursday, July 5, 2018

Henry Butler (1948–2018)

The pianist (and singer) Henry Butler has died at the age of sixty-nine. The New York Times has an obituary.

Henry lived and taught in our university town in the 1990s. He was often away, on leave to perform or record. He gave a concert here in which he played solo piano — I remember “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” and “Yesterdays” — and sang an Italian aria. He was a pianist of tremendous intensity, and a great unhurried conversationalist, with a dry sense of humor. When Elaine and I had Henry over for dinner, I picked him up at his house, where I noticed a copy of Robert Johnson’s Complete Recordings out for listening. I remember that after dinner Henry told us a story about driving a car and getting pulled over by the police. (I should mention that Henry was blind.) We played a duet or two for him, guitar and violin, probably “Pennies from Heaven.” We didn’t own a piano at the time.

Here’s Henry Butler at the Library of Congress, talking and performing.

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