South African guitarist and singer Jonathan Butler recently sat down with EBONY to discuss his 40-plus-year career and his latest album, Close to You.
Butler, 57, was born in Cape Town, South Africa. He got his musical start performing in carnivals and in Malay choirs, which perform the city’s traditional secular folk music .
“I was discovered by . . . the Golden City Dixies; they were a touring company that did Broadway in South Africa [and] in different cities,” the Mother City native said. “I auditioned at 7 years old, got the part and I was on the road. That’s how it all started.”
In 1974, the 13-year old Butler was signed to Jive Records South Africa after he became locally known for his cover of Burt Bacharach’s song “Please Stay,” which was a hit for the American vocal group the Drifters in 1961.
More than 40 years later, the international performer is again showing his appreciation for Bacharach with his 23rd album, Close to You, which is comprised of covers of songs by the composer and lyricist Hal David. The 11-song project features 10 from the 1960s and 70s from the 1960s and 70s by the celebrated songwriting duo, including vocal versions of “The Look of Love” and “Walk on By,” and instrumental versions of “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” and Butler’s new smooth jazz single, “I Say a Little Prayer.”
The project is also an acknowledgment of the love Butler has for his spouse, violinist Nadira Kimberly.
“It’s kind of a tribute to my wife. We just got married in January, [and] she’s been a kind of an inspiration for the song ‘Close to You,’ which triggered the album. She’s also playing on the record.”
Butler said relevancy of love songs in his life today is different than it was when he was younger because the songs mean more to him as an adult.
“[They’re] relevant to me where I’m at in my journey right now,” he said of the songs he covered on this album. “It’s a happy moment in my career because now I get to sing these songs that people know from my generation.”
Watch the full interview about to hear how the musician felt when attempting to cover songs previously performed by legends such as Luther Vandross and Aretha Franklin. Close to You is currently available on all streaming platforms.