The Soul Music of Jerry Butler


Introduction to Jerry Butler

Jerry Butler (born in 1939 in Sunflower, Mississippi) is an American R&B and soul singer-songwriter, having gained fame as one of the R&B/doo-wop group the Impressions during the 50s, as well as a solo artist starting from the 60s music era; later in his life he also became a politician. He and the legendary Curtis Mayfield met while they were members of a church choir. Soon Butler and Mayfield became members of the four-piece group The Impressions, eventually scoring their first hit with “For Your Precious Love,” which was co-written by Butler. Eventually Butler launched a solo career, with some of his hits were co-written with Mayfield. Some of Butler’s best-known hits include “He Will Break Your Heart” (a Top 10 pop hit), “Find Another Girl,” “I’m Telling You,” “Moon River,” “Make It Easy On Yourself,” “Need To Belong,” his own rendition of “For Your Precious Love” (peaked at #99 on the Hot 100 in 1966; it was included on the Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs list), “Never Give You Up,” “Hey, Western Union,” “Are You Happy,” “Only The Strong Survive,” “Moody Woman” and “Ain’t Understanding Mellow” (his last Top 40 pop single in 1971). In addition to making music, Butler also entered politics, serving as one of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, a position he has been holding since the 1980s.

Early Life of Jerry Butler

American soul singer-songwriter and politician Jerry Butler was born on December 8, 1939 in Sunflower,  Mississippi. Butler spent most of his early days in Chicago, residing at Cabrini-Green housing development. Although he came from a poor background, his family exposed him to religious lifestyle at a young age to avoid him from negative influence. As a teenager, Butler was a member of a local church choir with Curtis Mayfield. Later that point, he and Mayfield joined the gospel quartet Northern Jubilee Gospel Singers. The two eventually switched to the more profitable secular music. They joined a local doo-wop group The Roosters where Mayfield played as a guitarist. In 1958, The Roosters changed their name to The Impressions and was later signed to Veejay Records. From there, the group had their first hit called “For Your Precious Love,” making at #3 on the R&B charts and earning the gold status. The single was credited to Jerry Butler and Impressions for Veejay considered him as the most efficient in the quintet. Butler later left the group to pursue a solo career.

Jerry “The Iceman” Butler

In the late 1950’s, Butler issued several records which did moderately well. In 1960, he had his first big hit with the single “He Will Break Your Heart.” Penned by Mayfield, the song became a chart-topper on the R&B charts and made at #7 on the Billboard Hot 100. Butler was still associating with Mayfield in his next releases.

From 1961 to 1964, Butler continued making hits on the national charts with “Find another Girl” (#27), “I’m Telling You” (#25), “Moon River” (#11) “Make It Easy On Yourself” (#20), “Need to Belong” (#31). In 1966, he became a disc jockey at WDAS Philadelphia and was given the alias “The Iceman,” which fellow disc jockey Georgie Woods created for him. Also in that same year, he switched to Mercury Records. In the summer of 1968, he came back with another big hit “Hey Western Union Man” which peaked at #1 on R&B and #16 on the pop charts. It was followed by “Only the Strong Survive” a #1 R&B hit in 1969 and #4 in the pop charts. Butler released two successful LP’s, The Ice Man Cometh (1968) and Ice on Ice (1969). The former earned three Grammy nominations.

Butler in 1970’s, 1980’s to present

From early 70’s to early 80’s he continued to release numerous singles for labels Mercury, Motown and Philadelphia. Butler’s last hit was issued in 1971 called “Ain’t Understanding Mellow.” It reached the R&B charts at #3 and landed at #21 on the pops charts. He later refrained from the music business and started entering politics. He was first elected in 1985 as a Commissioner of Cook County’s 3rd district and as a city alderman and Water Commissioner. Butler is now a Commissioner of Health and Hospitals.

Several awards and honors were given to Butler and the original members of the Impressions from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1991) and Rhythm and Blues Foundation (1994).

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