It was the beginning of November when two-time Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Jonathan Butler released his first Christmas album, Merry Christmas To You, and launched the Jonathan Butler Foundation in his South African homeland to fund music education programs to inspire children to overcome a life of drugs and poverty. Butler, who completed a media tour in several South African cities and performed two concerts there in September to raise funds for the foundation, will soon form a U. S. affiliate to support the foundation’s music and arts programs in South Africa for children ages 4-17.
Butler grew up in South Africa under Apartheid the youngest of 17 children and it was music “The Jonathan Butler Foundation is about building new legacies and I’ve wanted to help the children in my native land fulfill their dreams. Teaming with the local governments to reclaim our children from the drug lords, we teach the kids to sing and play instruments. These are free-born children and it is about their legacies and saving them from drugs and poverty that rescued him from drugs and extreme poverty thus the inspiration for the foundation comes from personal experience and a desire that has gestated for more than 20 years. There is immense talent over there (South Africa) and down the road we hope to release compilation albums in the U.S. to help sustain the foundation and its diversion programs,” says Butler.
The guitar-playing troubadour was 13 when he released his debut album and became the first black artist played on white radio stations in South Africa.
Butler wrote, produced and played most of the instruments on Merry Christmas To You, an intimate 10-song set released by Artistry Music that showcases the singer with his acoustic guitar. The sparse production maintains focus on the spiritually-impassioned Butler belting out seven Christmas standards, one little known gem Sweet Little Jesus Boy and a pair of soulful originals authored by the artist, including the title cut and Happy Holidays. My personal favorites are Sleigh Ride driven by Butler’s fervent fretwork and the malt shop ballad Merry Christmas To You, which Butler charismatically croons and decorates with elegant jazz guitar riffs. Adding horn section parts to a couple of tunes are contemporary jazz aces Rick Braun, Dave Koz and Paul “Shilts” Weimer.
Oo-we-baby! Mr. Butler put his feet, both elbows, and his knee caps into making Merry Christmas To You. It is definitely one of the best Holiday recordings I have heard in many a year. Soulful and spirited remakes of Christmas favorites with that Butler touch … Afrocentric yet universal in every way that it counts … Highly Recommended ~ this will be a classic ~ bet! … ABYSSJazz