Blind blues musician captures images behind the lens
July 20, 2007
Henry Butler has been nominated best blues pianist seven years running by the Blues Foundation. He’s a vocalist, photographer and teacher. And he’s blind.
“When we would go to exhibits, my friends would explain in great detail the material of the photos,” Butler said. “I came to realize that I wasn’t getting much out of it emotionally, so I decided to become an artist in that field.”
Butler’s attitude with photography mirrors that of his music: motivated. Blind from age 3 because of glaucoma, Butler began playing the piano at age 6 on a neighbor’s piano. When he attended formal schooling for music, Butler discovered his perfect pitch.
“It takes discipline to get to the place where you’re able to control the musical language that you speak,” Butler said. “I don’t know anyone who is able to manipulate the piano fully, but with practice, a few greats have come close.”
Before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, Butler lived in his hometown of New Orleans, writing and recording music. The storm flooded his newly remodeled home, leaving all of his music equipment under 7 feet of water. It also left Butler homeless.
“Boulder really backed up their desire to help,” Butler said. “When it came to living in other cities, I didn’t feel that same support.”
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After a year in Boulder, Butler moved to Denver in November 2006, where he still lives when not on tour. Although the Denver music scene is certainly different from that of New Orleans, Butler enjoys playing shows there.
“The best thing about Colorado is that they import good music,” Butler said with a laugh. “Otherwise, the music scene’s a little more narrow than other cities I’ve lived in.”
Butler has released nine albums during his career, and he has contributed to countless other recordings. In addition to his blues career, Butler has taught in every city he’s lived in, including New York, Los Angeles, Baton Rouge, La., and New Orleans.
“Learning is an infinite task,” Butler said. “I learn more during the lessons than most of the students that I teach.”
Before Hurricane Katrina, Butler held an annual camp working with blind and visually impaired youths. Although the project has stalled the past two years, Butler looks forward to starting the camp again next summer – in Colorado.
“It’s fun being in Colorado,” Butler said. “I actually like it here and hope to stay for another 30 or 40 years.”
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