Hey there, lovely readers! September 7th is a big day at The Madison Theatre! Jonathan Butler and Kirk Whalum will be gracing our stage for a beautiful evening of jazz music! A little about them:
The youngest of 13 children, Butler grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, ruled by Apartheid and segregation. “I was born poor, but richly blessed with talent and the gift to make music,” he says. “I can’t dismiss where I’ve been or where I’ve come from. I’m a proud South African and I came from nothing.”
Butler began his singing career at age 7, releasing his first album in 1973 and winning the Best New Artist Grammy in South Africa the following year at age 12. He made history by being the first black artist played on white South African radio while earning three gold records (“Please Stay” went double gold and “I Love How You Love Me” went gold) in 1975 as he became a teenager.
More than a decade later, Butler moved to London, England after signing with Jive Records and released his first album internationally. The self-titled set went gold in 1987 in the United Kingdom and in the USA. He received Grammy nominations for Best R&B Song for his R&B-pop vocal hit “Lies” and for Best Jazz Song for the instrumental “Going Home.” His genre-busting material earned songwriter’s awards and received abundant airplay in multiple radio formats: pop, urban, contemporary jazz, adult contemporary and gospel. Butler’s 2004 album, Surrender, went gold in South Africa where he remains a superstar. “I don’t think I’ve ever really celebrated these moments in my life. I’ve spent my whole life taking care of people ever since I was seven. And I’m grateful, but this is the season of me.”
Butler is still taking care of people back home. Last fall, he launched the Jonathan Butler Foundation in his native country to fund music education programs that give children the purpose to overcome a life of drugs and poverty just as he did. The music and arts programs serving South African children ages 4-17 operate with the mission statement, “Purpose kills addiction.”
Another aspect of Butler’s “season of me” is his blossoming love affair with golf. He’s only been playing slightly more than a year, but he’s smitten and plays almost daily, often with other musicians. “I’m not sure how golf took over, but it attached itself to me. I can go out on the golf course and have ‘guy time.’ I’m completely taken over by this little white ball. I’m so at peace and calm when I’m out there and so relaxed after playing, which I never thought would be the case since I’ve never been a sports guy. I wasn’t trying to find another passion, but it actually found me. Golf has become my saving grace and has given me a look inside me. I think it’s the freedom. It’s amazing how much it’s given me.”
In concert, Butler remains a captivating and powerful performer, pouring his heart into selections from his immense catalogue. In addition to being a popular draw at headline dates, festival shows and music cruises, Butler thrives on interacting with his fans. For the past 4 years, he has led a group of 35 guests each fall on the Jonathan Butler Safari, during which he shares his South Africa by visiting important landmarks in his life, as well as historic locales such as the prison on Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was jailed.
“I’ve come to a really good place in my life even if finding my way there was tough. I’m living my dream and it’s amazing what God is doing—seeing all these things through tears and pain. Seeing God place me in these extraordinary places and opportunities…if I couldn’t see it, I’d really be blind and faithless. I need to hold onto the love surrounding me. I had never really dropped my shoulders to embrace it. It took shedding my skin, realigning and readjusting myself as a person, honestly looking at how I can become a better person, which affects my family. We stood together through difficult periods and it taught me not to make too many allowances in life, of which I had been making too many. It was a trying time and a difficult year emotionally and personally, but I did a lot of reflecting over the past two years and I’m in a good place,” summarizes Butler.
During an extraordinary musical life that has unfolded in the public eye, Butler has seen and endured a lot. He’s watched his country turn itself inside out for the better—much like he has done with his own life. Living and witnessing the brutalities and injustice of oppression as a celebrated child star while at the same time not permitted to enjoy basic human rights, indulgence naturally became his coping device. If not for a spiritual intervention, his light would have been extinguished long ago on the mercilessly dark path of abuse and self-destruction. His music has purpose, providing comfort and genuine inspiration. When he sings, he testifies to the glory and healing power of love. When he plays guitar, his fast fingers innately find notes of passion and divinity. Jonathan Butler’s recording career has carried him far, far beyond his wildest dreams. He’s living his dream and that is a blessing for us all.
Soulful, passionate, stirring…these are the words most often used to describe Kirk’s music. Forged from his Memphis, TN gospel roots and his 1980s initiation into the thriving Houston, TX nightclub scene, Kirk’s big, rich tenor sound is unmistakably his. The ’80s were highlighted by Kirk’s stepping out of his blossoming sideman role and forming his own band. It was there that Kirk ultimately developed both his “voice” and songwriting in the crucible of the local club scene––especially at a rooftop club called Cody’s.
It was also in Houston where jazz pianist Bob James “discovered” him and brought him on tour, which led to five successful albums with Columbia Records, including Cache, Kirk’s first #1 album. As well, Kirk and Bob received a Grammy nomination for their collaboration album, Joined at the Hip. After moving to Los Angeles, Kirk became an in-demand session player for top artists like Barbra Streisand, Al Jarreau, Luther Vandross, Larry Carlton, Quincy Jones and most notably, Whitney Houston, amongst many others.
It’s his sax heard on the mega-hit, “I Will Always Love You.” Kirk soon followed that career high point with his phenomenal hit album released on Warner Bros. Records, For You, perhaps the most successful of over 25 solo recordings to date; others include his eclectic, and much lauded Gospel According to Jazz series (Chapters 1, 2, 3 and 4). In addition to his many solo projects, Kirk was also a member of the popular soul/jazz group BWB, which features Kirk as the “W” of the group with Rick Braun (trumpet) and Norman Brown (guitar).
An ordained minister, Kirk has earned a Master of Art in Religion. It’s in this spirit that he serves his community in various ways when his touring schedule allows. There is also his daily fifteen minute podcast, Bible In Your Ear (BIYE), in which he invites you to listen along as he reads through the Bible in a year. In addition to music and ministry, Kirk has a passion to educate young, aspiring musicians and is currently engaged as a music professor at Visible Music College in his hometown of Memphis.
Kirk is the recipient of numerous awards and acknowledgements for his musical excellence including three Dove Award nominations, an NAACP Image Award nomination and has won two Stellar Awards-Gospel music’s highest honor. A twelve-time Grammy nominee, Kirk won his first Grammy Award (2011) for Best Gospel Song (“It’s What I Do”––featuring Lalah Hathaway) alongside life-long friend and gifted songwriter Jerry Peters.
In a career spanning decades, Kirk has a sound that is uniquely his; it is a sound that leaves an indelible imprint on the listener.
See you in August!