|TWIN CITIES — When Jonathan Butler was just a child—seven or eight years old—a local talent show in his home country of South Africa came one day to pick him up.
“They drove me from Cape Town in the middle of the night to Durban, which was to me just so far,” he recalled. “I remember waking up and hearing English speaking people. I had grown up speaking Afrikaans in my parents’ home. What a shock that was for me. And not only a shock—how scary it was to be away from my parents.”
Music and talent shows were nothing new to this family of 12 children. Different members of the family were involved with various sorts of music, and Butler “became part of the chain of music” early on.
He had won some talent shows, and that gave him the opportunity to travel and make money for his family.
Eventually, he was “discovered” by two music producers when he was 12 years old, and that resulted in his first signed deal—in London, England.
“My first record, I think it was Aug. 1, 1974,” he said. “That song, ‘Please stay,’ went to number two on the pop charts. I then learned I was the first black artist played on white radio stations back then. That was huge to me. It was such a dream come true to be played on radio, to hear myself on radio and of course the popularity was extended beyond just black people …”
While in the United Kingdom, Butler had the opportunity to write songs for such musical powerhouses as Tom Jones, George Benson, the Pointer Sister and Al Jarreau.
But his life changed back when he was in South Africa. When Butler was 19 years old, he met his wife, whose brother ultimately took the time to talk with him and eventually lead him to Christ.
But Butler’s entrance into Gospel music was still some years away. He is a popular jazz and R&B artist, and he stills enjoys playing in those genres.
Regarding Gospel music, Butler said: “I waited a long time. I can’t stress more the importance that people understand that I’m not really just doing Gospel music because I just like it. I really believe this is God’s plan and purpose for my life. That I’m totally surrendered to God, [in] every way He [chooses] to want to use me—be it in jazz, be it in Gospel …”
His new Gospel CD, titled “Grace and Mercy” is a collection of songs that were borne out of personal experience. In the last several years, Butler has lost his mother, best friend and went through a cancer battle with his wife, who has survived.
“We’ve experienced God’s grace through my wife beating cancer, being healed from cancer,” he said. “During the process of my mother dying and my best friend dying and during the times when in the industry we’re all faced with different uncertainties and setbacks in terms of where do we go from here.”
During the difficult years, Butler said that learning to trust the Lord with all his heart became real and personal to him.
In one of the tracks on the new CD, “I Stand on Your Word,” Butler said the song is “really me crying out to God. I have nothing else. During the times with my kids or my marriage or my career, I have nothing else, no one else to hold on to but [God].”
Butler’s favorite song on the CD, however, is one he wrote several years ago, titled “Lay My Head on You.” Butler said: “It speaks to me because it’s simple; it’s got a great groove about it. It just really speaks to me about ‘Lord, can I lay my head on You?’”
As with all artists and those who travel a lot, it can be difficult to attend church regularly or stay connected with your faith.
“I am very close to my pastor, and I think accountability keeps me in check and allows me to wake up in the morning, know that I can call him and he’ll say, ‘OK, let’s study this,’” Butler said. “We don’t get to go to church much when you’re on the road. When I’m not home, I feel like God’s allowing me to minister on the platform that He has given to me. Coming back, it’s important to be filled with the Holy Spirit, be filled with the Word and having that accountability that keeps me focused.”
In addition to music, Butler also hosts a safari in South Africa, something he’s passionate about.
“It’s our second year out,” he said. “We already have people signed on for next year. So I’m very passionate about that experience because it’s such a glorious … it’s spiritual, it’s emotional, it’s everything. The safari really gives me opportunity to take 45 people from around the world and show them my country.”
ACTIONPOINT: You can purchase Jonathan Butler’s new CD “Grace and Mercy” at LifeWay Christian stores or online. For more information about Butler, visit www.jonathanbutler.com.