Remembering Ronnie Butler

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A report by MORGAN ADDERLEY for Tribune 242.

THE memorial service for the life of the “Godfather of Bahamian Music,” Ronnie Butler, was held yesterday at the William Johnson Auditorium.

Described as a multi-talented musician and singer-songwriter, Prince Ronald “Ronnie” Butler’s career spanned 60 years and spawned fifteen albums. His classic hits include “Burma Road,” “Crow Calypso,” and “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number.” Butler was made a Member of the British Empire (MBE) in 2003. He died on November 19 at the age of 80.

The service of celebration for Butler’s life was fittingly filled with music. Performers included Emily “Sweet Emily” Williams, Dion Turnquest, Nehemiah and Beatrice Hield, Alia Coley, and Butler’s extended family.

Butler’s son, Ronnie Jr said: “We love him because in private, he did his best to become a better person for us. So you see, besides the immense gifts his talent has already given us, he gave his children something even greater. When the radio is off and all the songs are over, his love and pride and joy in who we are shines over us and through us. So thank you Daddy, for all these gifts.”

In his tribute, former Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller said it was a “privilege” to know Butler.

“To know Ronnie is to love Ronnie,” Mr Miller said. “And those of us who knew him, truly loved him. But more important, he loved us. He was the kindest human being.”

A recurring theme of the tributes paid at Butler’s memorial was the need for more national appreciation of Bahamian music, talent, and culture.

Mr Miller said: “Let us hope today as we move through our journey in this life that we would show more compassion, more appreciation, and more love for Bahamians everywhere. That we would appreciate the talent that God has given some of us in this country, that we should show them the respect and the gratitude, instead of us showing those from elsewhere those same things that our musicians and others long for.”

Producer Fred Ferguson said: “No country survives without the artists being an important and integral part of the country.”

He called for a “scholarship fund [to be] established at the University of The Bahamas for the purpose of cultural studies” in Butler’s name.

“This will create something that will be able to live and to breathe into perpetuity, so that the name of Ronnie Butler will never be forgotten,” Mr Ferguson added.

Former Attorney General Alfred Sears said: “Ronnie was disappointed that successive governments, in providing hundreds of millions of Bahamian tax payer dollars and Crown land to foreign owned resorts, had failed to ensure permanent performance spaces in those resorts for Bahamian entertainers.”

Mr Sears also spoke of his personal relationship with Butler.

“My cultural identity, pride, and patriotism as a Bahamian has been shaped and enriched by Ronnie Butler’s vision, voice, and personal courage,” Mr Sears said.

“[Ronnie] made us laugh at ourselves, he told us about our past, and he put a rhythm to it to make us dance. Then he made us laugh and think as we danced. This musical legend is ours. He was as bold as our history. From Burma Road to today, his art chronicled our motions and marked our manner…He used his musical genius as a creative weapon to empower the Bahamian people.”

Friend Sir Charles Carter said: “We are one of the luckiest countries in the world to have somebody with the vision and talent of Ronnie Butler…He helped me to help this nation appreciate who and what we are.”

On the sidelines of the memorial, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis told reporters: “I didn’t know him personally like many others, but he’s obviously an icon that I would think that one day would be a national hero, as what he has done for the culture and the music cannot be matched. Obviously, he played a very, very important role in the country.”

Dr Minnis, who arrived late to the ceremony after leaving the House of Assembly, continued: “If Parliament was in session and we suspend Parliament so that individuals can attend the funeral…that is very, very significant. But I can recall people coming here, guests or visitors to The Bahamas and specifically asking, ‘who is Ronnie Butler?’ [Asking] where can they find him.

“So his music has made The Bahamas known not just throughout the Caribbean but throughout the world and we cannot pay for that. So it was fitting and essential that we suspend Parliament and spend the time here with a cultural icon who has done so much for this country.”

Leader of the Official Opposition Philip Brave Davis said: “I remember him not only as a musical icon but as a true patriot or Bahamian. I knew Ronnie from he grew up in Culmersville not too far from our legendary Joseph Spence. So his attraction to music no doubt would have been inspired by that community in which he live in Culmersville. I lived in Rolle Avenue which is a neighbouring community and I knew him from then.

“I grew up with his music and I long for the days for us to recapture the music of his time. His song writing is no more, but his sounds will live on. We will not hear his voice live anymore, and his voice has been silenced, but I’m the sure the melody will remain with us forever.”

Along with a nation left to cherish the legacy of Ronnie Butler are his mother, Roselyn Davis; children, Rhonda Michelle, Ronnie Jr, and Tara Butler, Candice Contrera and Dionne Patterson; grandchildren, great-grand children; and numerous relatives and friends.

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