Jonathan Butler: Jazz, Drugs and Jesus
By Stephen Hubbard and Scott Ross
The 700 Club
Jonathan Butler tours with contemporary jazz greats like Dave Koz and Patti Austin -- a far cry from his formative years in South Africa.
“We grew up very poor,” says Jonathan. “There were days that we would live on potatoes for a week. That’s a luxury. We got used to asking for food next door. I just wanted to help my mother and father so we could eat.”
Jonathan found out early that his gift for music was the way he could help.
“My first performance was probably [at] six years old, and I’m singing Tom Jones' ‘My, My Delilah,’” says Jonathan. “I’d fall on my knees, and people would chuck a whole lot of money. It’s customary in Africa if people like your singing or whatever. They throw money on the stage. So I knew that was my destiny.”
Jonathan Butler’s destiny arrived even before he was a teenager. When he was 12 years old, he was signed to a recording contract.
“I was signed to Zomba in South Africa. I had my first hit record. It was a Burt Bacharach song called ‘Please Stay,’ and it went to No. 2 on the pop chart. So I became the first black person to be played on the white radio in South Africa. The popularity and the fame spread so fast.”
Jonathan’s early fame only left him empty.
“Nobody loved me. They loved the fact that I made them money. It was good for my family to see me give them money after I’d do a concert, but I had great need [for] love and attention.”
Jonathan turned to drugs to cope.
“I was a drug addict at 15. I didn’t do needles and stuff like that but I was definitely gone. I was on another level," Jonathan says. “I didn’t like food. I just drank coffee, got high, and played my guitar 10 hours a day. I didn’t leave my house; I didn’t leave my room.”
One day the phone rang, and Jonathan’s life changed forever.
“He called me one day and said, ‘I’m your No.1 fan. Jesus loves you. He died for you.’ John 3:16… the whole bit. I’d never heard that; I'd never met him. ‘Jesus died for you. Can I come and speak to you about him?’ And this young man pursued me. I finally met with him, and we talked. I was still very angry. Man, don’t talk to me about angels with blond hair and blue eyes.”
Jonathan grew up in an era when apartheid violently separated blacks from whites in South Africa.
Since Jonathan saw Jesus as a “white man,” salvation was a hard concept for him to swallow.
“I had such an anger toward the system, and I didn’t want to serve a Jesus that had blond hair on the streets where people were being killed. I had such a warped view.”
Jonathan’s fan simply would not give up.
“He invited me to a youth meeting, and there were young people my age," says Jonathan. “In this meeting, this lady preached on suicide, and I realized I was on that mission. I gave my heart to Christ that night. I said, ‘How can I receive Christ?’ They led me through a prayer and Romans 10:10 and showed me a completely different face of Christ and what the love of God is all about.
“I got delivered that night from drugs, from anger, from depression instantaneously," Jonathan recalls. "I woke up the next morning with a hunger to eat because I could smell again.”
Jonathan not only accepted Jesus more than 20 years ago, he married the sister of the fan who led him to Christ.
He recently cut his first gospel CD and continually works to show Christ to the secular jazz world.
“God has placed me in an environment to be a witness to all these people and I don’t need to Bible-bash them, [saying] ‘Man, you’re going to hell if you light that cigarette,'" says Jonathan. "God has given me the grace and the capacity to love. That’s what I lacked when I was growing up.
“You can influence people and make them see the Christ in you. Give Christ a chance. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
Scott Ross welcomes your feedback.
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