By Robert M. Marovich
JGM learned of the passing last week of singer, guitarist, and GRAMMY nominee Sam Butler. He was 70 years old.
From preschool age, Samuel Butler Jr. had an estimable apprenticeship learning at the feet of his father, the Reverend Samuel Butler Sr., who played guitar for the Original Five Blind Boys of Mississippi. It’s Sam Sr. you hear playing the steel guitar on the group’s 1952 single, “Precious Memories.” The elder Sam also accompanied the Brooklyn All Stars in the late 1960s, including on its iconic 1969 cover of “I Stood on the Banks of Jordan.”
Sam Jr. originally sang as “Little Junior” of Little Junior and the Butleraires, a Florida-based family quartet. Between 1964 and the very early 1970s, the Butleraires, which variously featured both Sam Sr. and Jr., recorded for the Fuller, Gospel Label, Savoy, and Jewel record companies. The younger Sam was recruited by the Dorothy Norwood Singers when the group opened for the Rolling Stones. When Keith Richards of the Stones was recording his debut solo album, 1989’s Talk is Cheap, producer Steve Jordan called on Sam Jr. to moan on one of the album tracks. Butler has also collaborated with Donald Fagen, co-founder of Steely Dan, among others.
Sam Jr. is perhaps best known as a member of the Blind Boys of Alabama. With the iconic Alabama quartet, Sam appeared in the stage musical The Gospel at Colonus. He released a solo album called Raise Your Hands! (Severn) and collaborated with Blind Boys mate Clarence Fountain on Clarence Fountain Presents Sam Butler. The two also put together the 2009 album Stepping Up and Stepping Out.
His wife, Valerie Littles-Butler, provided funeral service information:
Saturday, January 6
Progressive Baptist Church
1505 Burns Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55106
Cards and other items can be sent to
11 Logan Avenue West
St. Paul, MN. 55118
JGM extends its deepest sympathies to the family, friends, and many fans of Sam Butler. “Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal.”