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Butler, Jerry

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Butler, Jerry, one of the most engaging soul music singer-songwriters to emerge in the late 1950s; b. Sunflower, Miss., Dec. 8, 1939. After moving to Chicago with his family at the age of three, Jerry Butler began singing in gospel groups as a child. He sang with Curtis Mayfield in the Northern Jubilee Gospel Singers, and during 1957, he and Mayfield joined The Roosters. By 1958, they had changed their name to The Impressions and signed with Veejay Records. Featuring Butler’s soothing baritone, The Impressions’ first single, ’Tor Your Precious Love” (coauthored by Butler) became a smash R&B and pop hit.

Leaving The Impressions after the solitary hit, Jerry Butler scored a top R&B and pop hit in late 1960 with “He Will Break Your Heart/’ cowritten by Butler and Mayfield. Butler and Mayfield also co wrote the near-smash R&B and major pop hits “Find Another Girl” and “I’m-a Telling You.” With the success of Butler’s vocals on Henry Mancini’s “Moon River” and Burt Ba-charach’s “Make It Easy on Yourself” (both major crossover hits), he was established as a purveyor of smooth soul ballads on the American supper club circuit. Subsequent hits included “Need to Belong” and “Let It Be Me,” recorded with Betty Everett. Butler’s moderate hit, “I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore,” was one of the first Randy Newman songs to make the charts and Butler later wrote “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)” for and with Otis Redding.

With the demise of Veejay Records in 1966, Jerry Butler moved to Mercury Records, where he worked with songwriter-producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. The collaboration resulted in a number of hits for Butler through 1969. These included the top R&B hits “Hey Western Union Man” and “Only the Strong Survive” (also a smash pop hit), as well as the hits “Never Give You Up,” “Moody Woman,” and “What’s the Use of Breaking Up.” His 1969 album The Iceman Cometh, the most successful of his career, contained three of the hits and provided Butler with the “Iceman” nickname, denoting his cool sophisticated style.

Jerry Butler stayed with Mercury Records when Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff moved to Columbia Records in 1970. He established the Songwriters’ Workshop in Chicago and recorded an album with Gene Chandler. With Brenda Lee Eager, Butler scored a major R&B hit with “Power of Love” and his last major pop/R&B hit with “Ain’t Understanding Mellow.” “If It’s Real What I Feel” and “One Night Affair” also became R&B hits on Mercury in the early 1970s. Butler subsequently switched to Motown Records, where he achieved a R&B hit with “I Wanna Do It to You” and recorded two albums with Thelma Houston. In 1978, he reunited with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff at Philadelphia International Records for two albums and the major rhythm-and-blues hit “(I’m Just Thinking About) Cooling Out.” Elected as a Cook County (Chicago) commissioner in 1986, Jerry Butler returned to recording in the 1990s with Time and Faith and Simply Beautiful .

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