A LIFE IN MUSIC
RONNIE Butler was born August 17, 1937, in New Providence and first entered the music business at the age of 16 while simultaneously working in construction.
He later joined the group King Eric and His Knights where he established himself as an entertainer. After six years, he left to form his own group, Ronnie and the Ramblers, which flourished for 17 years.
Ronnie and The Ramblers performed nightly at the Big Bamboo, which was an underground club on Bay Street. From there, Butler went to work in The Rum Keg Room of the Nassau Beach Hotel. He then took a year off and travelled to Washington DC, where he performed in a club known as Alfio’s.
Butler returned to the Nassau Beach Hotel in the Out Island Bar in 1971, around which time he recorded the smash hits “Burma Road,” “Crow Calypso,” “Native Woman,” and “Bahama Rock.” All of these songs were featured on the album titled, “Burma Road.”
In September of 1973, Butler started performing in Ronnie’s Rebel Room, where he remained for ten years. It was during the transition from the Nassau Beach Hotel and Ronnie’s Rebel Room that Butler recorded most of his records with Eddie Minnis as well as those recorded on his own. He then went on to perform in the Tradewinds Lounge on Paradise Island. He continued to perform there until January 1990.
The Bahamas Guild of Artists’ Association has acknowledged Butler as one of its top five vocalists who have achieved international acclaim during their musical careers.
The icon’s most famous hit to date is “Burma Road,” which he wrote in 1967. He has sung calypso, rock, bluegrass, funk, and popular love songs in order to gain mass international appeal. “Burma Road” was one of his best-selling albums.
Butler achieved much success and longevity in his career and most recently his single, “Married Man,” was featured in American director and producer Tyler Perry’s, “Why Did I Get Married Too?” which was shot in The Bahamas.
Butler received many awards for his contribution to the growth and development of his community, including a Cacique Award, Bahamas Icon Award and was given the Queen’s Honour of Member of the Most Excellent Order of The British Empire (MBE) in 2003 for service to the music and entertainment industry.
He is survived by five children, six grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
By SANCHESKA DORSETT
Tribune Staff Reporter
MUSICAL legend and cultural icon Ronnie Butler died at his home early yesterday morning after battling a long illness.
He was 80.
Referred to as “The Godfather of Bahamian Music,” Butler’s career spanned more than five decades.
Many people paid tribute to the musician after news of his death spread.
Progressive Liberal Party Leader Phillip “Brave” Davis described Butler as a “musical treasure.”
“Our nation’s national musical treasure Ronnie Butler has passed into eternity. Now he belongs to the ages. He can sing his sweet music in heaven as he travels Burma Road on the way to the Pearly Gates,” Mr Davis said in a statement.
“Ronnie Butler helped us to build our sense of national identity. Almost 50 years ago, just as we ushered in majority rule, he reminded us from whence we came. He told us that he remembered when we used to go to high mass on Sunday with high top tennis with no socks on. That was Ronnie Butler. It seems that his voice has always been with us. He leaves a great legacy. I am sure all of the nation feels this loss.”
Free National Movement (FNM) Chairman Carl Culmer said Butler was an “extraordinary human being, mentor and friend to many young musicians” locally and throughout the Caribbean.
“We honoured him during his life and we will honour him even at his death, for making such remarkable contributions to the Bahamas through his music, which often addressed his political ideology and values on the struggle of our people as we fought for inclusion in matters affecting our country before independence,” Mr Culmer said.
Butler was a longtime resident of Fort Charlotte.
The area’s member of Parliament Mark Humes said the community and the wider Bahamas has lost a giant.
“As chairman of the Bahamas Independence Secretariat, I was tremendously honoured when Mr Butler agreed to our request to be the centrepiece of our 44th independence celebration,” Mr Humes said in a statement. “Without a doubt, his performance was by far the highlight of the celebrations. I, like many in attendance, could not be more grateful to him for sharing his God-given gifts with us one final time. We were and will continue to be truly blessed by the legacy that he has left behind.
“To a grieving nation, I would wish to encourage each of you to cherish and be thankful for the many colourful memories that you have of Ronnie and live a life that will be speak to the fact that our living, like his, was not in vain.”
Former Attorney General Alfred Sears, who represented Fort Charlotte from 2002 to 2012, said Mr Butler was “a national cultural hero and patriot.”
“He helped to shape the Bahamian identity, through his creative lyrics, wit, powerful voice and principled views,” Mr Sears said in a statement.
“He believed in the ideals of the majority rule struggle, mentored younger artists, shared his musical gifts with the Fort Charlotte community and the country freely whenever requested and was courageous in speaking truth to power in defence of the ideals of majority rule and building the cultural institutions of the Bahamas. I am proud to call him my friend and brother. Rest in peace.”
Englerston MP Glenys Hanna Martin said the musician helped shape Bahamian culture.
“We are reminded that when your legs became weak, your voice got stronger,” Mrs Hanna Martin said in a statement posted to her Facebook page. “You epitomised the powerful, independent and creative essence of this the Bahamian people. You brought us joy and laughter; your rhythms kept awake our indigenous spirit, a unique Bahama rock. In gratitude for your rich and happy presence.”
Local singer and activist Terneille “TaDa” Burrows said she and Butler became friends after a performance nearly 10 years ago.
“We first shared the stage in 2008 at Fort Charlotte and became quick friends thereafter,” she wrote on Facebook. “We also shared talent, drive and a burning desire for national advancement in arts, culture and entertainment. You’ll always be the ‘Godfather of Bahamian Music’ and you were my friend.
“The legend lives on through many songs and in our hearts. . .”
Arinthia Komolafe, deputy leader of the Democratic National Alliance, said Butler embodied “the indomitable Bahamian spirit and exemplified all that defines the people of this great nation.”
She added: “The Godfather of Bahamian Music was loved and admired both at home and abroad. Ronnie, as he was fondly called, captured the hearts of many and captivated audiences from all walks of life. This son of the soil made us proud to be Bahamians and never stopped believing in the Bahamian Dream.
“The legacy of Ronnie Butler will be defined by his selflessness and sacrifice. He delighted in using his gifts and talents for the benefit of his people whether he was compensated or not.
A grateful nation salutes one of her illustrious sons. Ronnie Butler has now flown away and has taken his place alongside angels in the Heavenly Orchestra. Adieu Ronnie. Your footsteps in the Bahamian sand will endure for generations to come.”
His son, Ronnie Butler Jr, posted a short statement on Facebook on Sunday.
“There are no words, except, perhaps ‘I love you Dad.’ On angels wings,” Mr Butler Jr wrote.