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George Butler
Recording industry executive

Born: 1931 in Charlotte, North Carolina
Died: April 9, 2008 in Castro Valley, California

Label executive mentored young lions

by Ron Scott
Copyright © 2008 Ron Scott

Ron Scott

George Butler, noted recording producer an influential record label executive for Columbia, Blue Note and United Artists and also responsible for launching the careers of many young jazz musicians, died on April 9, at the Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, California.

The cause of death was complications brought on by Alzheimer's that was confirmed by his sister, Jacqueline Butler Hairston. He was 76.

As an executive producer or producer Butler amassed 66 gold and platinum records and 18 Grammy Awards with such artists as Miles Davis, Nancy Wilson, Harry Connick, Jr., Wynton Marsalis, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Shirley Bassey, Marlena Shaw, Bob James and Grover Washington Jr., among many others.

As the vice-president for jazz and progressive artists and repertory at Columbia Records during the late '70s and into the '90s, Butler always proved to be an innovating force. He was responsible for signing a string of young lions to the label such as Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Harry Connick Jr., Terrence Blanchard, Rodney Franklin, David Sanchez, and Kent and Marlon Jordan. During his tenure he also signed Nnenna Freelon, Billy Cobham and Kirk Whalum.

After a year of persuasion Butler finally convinced Miles Davis to return to the studio (in 1980) after a five-year absence.

"Legends listened to him and participated in his projects," said Sandra Trim-DaCosta, a former label colleague. "We all admired and respected him. His contribution to jazz is invaluable."

Butler was an impeccable dresser, and always the gentleman, with an infectious smile that affected anyone in his presence. Visiting his office was always a great opportunity for me to get the scoop on upcoming record projects but most important to absorb his impromptu jazz history lessons.

Born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, Butler attended Howard University and received a master's degree in music education from Teachers College at Columbia University.

After a few years at United Artists, in 1972 he moved to a subsidiary label, Blue Note. To bolster a wider jazz audience Butler arranged crossover jazz-pop projects that included albums by Earl Klugh, Donald Byrd, Bobbi Humphrey and Ronnie Laws. "He was very influential in the jazz community, a positive contributor," stated saxophonist Sonny Fortune.

Butler produced orchestral recordings for The London Symphony Orchestra, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of London, and the Boston Pops Orchestra. Some of the concerts he produced were: Blue Note at the Hollywood Bowl; Blue Note at Montreaux; Havana Jam; "Live" at Avery Fisher Hall with Sarah Vaughn & Grover Washington Jr.; and a Miles Davis tribute at Radio City Music Hall.

Butler lectured and conducted jazz and classical workshops at The Sorbonne in Paris, Harvard University, Mexico City, the University of Massachusetts, Southern University, and Hampton University. He served as chairman of the board for Jazzmobile and was a board member for the United Jazz Coalition and the Boys Choir of Harlem.

In addition to his sister, he is survived by his daughter Bethany Butler.

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