Henry Butler, a pianist, singer and cornerstone of the New Orleans sound, died of cancer Monday morning in the Bronx, New York. His death was confirmed by his agent, Maurice Montoya. Butler was 69 years old.
Born Sept. 21, 1948 in New Orleans, La., Butler was a prime force in the city's piano tradition — gifted with an exuberant touch and a keen, razor-sharp musicality.
Blind since birth, Butler grew up in the city's Calliope Projects, and taught himself piano by ear. He went on to study classical music at the Louisiana State School for the Blind, where he memorized scores written in Braille and at Southern University, he majored in voice and minored in piano. He also studied with such exemplars of New Orleans piano as Professor Longhair and James Booker.
Musically, Butler was the heir to his birth city's vital piano tradition, and he passed that tradition along. He taught across the United States and developed a summer camp for visually impaired teenage musicians. That program was depicted in a documentary film that aired on PBS stations in 2010.