In the Spotlight: Jerry Butler

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Your Citation
Fontenot, Robert. "In the Spotlight: Jerry Butler." ThoughtCo, Jun. 21, 2012, Fontenot, Robert. (2012, June 21). In the Spotlight: Jerry Butler. Retrieved from Fontenot, Robert. "In the Spotlight: Jerry Butler." ThoughtCo. (accessed October 22, 2017).
Jerry Butler in the early '60s.


Jerry Butler Jr. on December 8, 1939 in Sunflower, MS


Soul, R&B, Uptown/Chicago Soul,, Pop-soul, Northern Soul, Funk


Vocals, guitar, piano, sax, bass, drums

Contributions to music:

  • Nicknamed "The Iceman" for his smooth, coolly effortless vocal delivery
  • An indisputable architect of what would become known as soul music
  • Proved himself equally adept at doo-wop, Chicago soul, funk, blues, and blues-soul
  • His landmark 1958 recording with The Impressions, "For Your Precious Love," remains a standout of R&B balladry
  • Hit the R&B charts on a consistent basis for 30 straight years
  • A noted songwriter, producer, and instrumentalist

Early years:

Born and raised in Chicago's notorious Cabrini Green housing development, Jerry Butler was naturally brought into the culture of his church at a young age in order to keep him from the negative influence of the streets. As a teenager, Butler joined the local Northern Jubilee Gospel Singers, who also featured a young guitarist named Curtis Mayfield. The two eventually defected to the more profitable field of secular music, joining a local doo-wop group named The Roosters. A parking valet for the local Chez Paris nightclub, Eddie Thomas, took the group under his wing and became their manager, grooming them for success by, among other things, putting Butler up front.


Now renamed Jerry Butler and the Impressions, the group auditioned for Vee-Jay with a ballad Butler had written called "For Your Precious Love." Slow and stately, yet impassioned, it sounded like nothing else on the radio, and yet once the kids on "American Bandstand" heard the song and loved it, Dick Clark got behind the single.

However, the label had already indicated it considered Jerry the real talent in the quintet, and so Mayfield became Butler's backing guitarist, co-writing the song that would eventually become his first solo hit, "He Will Break Your Heart." (Curtis revived the Impressions in New York soon after.)

Later years:

The Iceman, as he was sometimes known, was a constant presence on the R&B charts through the early '70s, pioneering the lush and dramatic "Uptown" or "Chicago" brand of soul and scoring the occasional pop hit. Eventually, Butler moved behind the scenes, writing for Motown and producing the dance hit "Breaking and Entering" for Dee Dee Sharp. In the mid-80s, the singer took a break from the road, maintaining a solo career while becoming involved in Chicago politics. He served as a Commissioner of Cook County's 3rd district and as a city alderman, Water Commissioner, and then Commissioner of Health and Hospitals, a position he holds today.

Jerry Butler awards and honors:

  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the Impressions (1991)
  • Rhythm & Blues Foundation (1994)

Jerry Butler facts and trivia:

  • Wrote "For Your Precious Love" at the age of sixteen
  • Was given his nickname by Philadelphia DJ Georgie Woods
  • Co-wrote Otis Redding's "I've Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)"
  • Nominated for three Grammys for his 1968 album The Iceman Cometh
  • Served as Chairman of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation
  • Has written with "Philly Soul" production legends Gamble and Huff
  • Has won a "Clio" award for his work writing and producing TV commercials
  • Butler's younger brother Jerry plays guitar in his touring band; his wife of 50 years, Annette, sings backup
  • His "Iceman" moniker is now Butler's registered trademark

Jerry Butler hit songs and albums:

#1 hits:

  • "He Will Break Your Heart" (1960)
  • "Hey, Western Union Man" (1968)
  • "Only the Strong Survive" (1969)
Top 10 hits:
  • "He Will Break Your Heart" (1960)
  • "Let It Be Me" with Betty Everett (1964)
  • "Only the Strong Survive" (1969)
  • "For Your Precious Love" with the Impressions (1958)
  • "I'm-a Tellin' You" (1961)
  • "I Dig You Baby" (1967)
  • "Never Give You Up" (1968)
  • "Are You Happy" (1968)
  • "Moody Woman" (1969)
  • "What's the Use of Breaking Up" (1969)
  • "If It's Real What I Feel" with Brenda Lee Eager (1971)
  • "Ain't Understanding Mellow" with Brenda Lee Eager (1971)
  • "Close to You" with Brenda Lee Eager (1972)
  • "One Night Affair" (1972)
  • "I Want To Do It To You" (1977)
Top 10 albums:
  • The Iceman Cometh (1969)
  • Ice on Ice (1969)
  • You and Me (1970)

Other important recordings:

"Come Back My Love" with the Impressions, "Lost," "A Lonely Soldier," "Find Another Girl," "Moon River," "Aware of Love," "Make it Easy on Yourself," "You Can Run (But You Can't Hide)," "Theme from Taras Bulba (The Wishing Star)," "Whatever You Want," "Need to Belong," "Giving Up on Love," "I Stand Accused," "I Don't Want to Hear It Anymore," "Ain't That Loving You Baby" with Betty Everett, "Smile" with Betty Everett, "Good Times," "I Can't Stand to See You Cry," "Just For You," "Love (Oh, How Sweet It Is)," "Mr. Dream Merchant," "A Brand New Me," "Don't Let Love Hang You Up," "Got to See If I Can Get Mommy (To Come Back Home)," "I Could Write a Book," "Where Are You Going," "Special Memory," "You Just Can't Win (By Making the Same Mistakes)" as Gene and Jerry, "Ten and Two (Take This Woman Off the Corner)" as Gene and Jerry, "How Did We Lose It Baby," "Walk Easy My Son," "I Only Have Eyes For You," "Can't Understand It" with Brenda Lee Eager, "The Love We Had Stays On My Mind" with Brenda Lee Eager, "Power of Love," "That's How Heartaches Are Made," "Take the Time to Tell Her," "Playing on You," "The Devil in Mrs. Jones," "Chalk It Up," "It's a Lifetime Thing" with Thelma Houston, "(I'm Just Thinking About) Cooling Out," "Nothing Says I Love You Like I Love You," "The Best Love I Ever Had," "Don't Be An Island" with Debra Henry, "No Love Without Changes," "In My Life" with Patti Austin

Covered by: Elvis Presley, Tony Orlando and Dawn, The Walker Brothers, James Brown, Jackie Wilson, Elvis Costello, Otis Redding, The Black Keys, Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, Johnnie Taylor, The Hives, Al Green, Isaac Hayes, Aaron Neville, Ben E.

King, Delbert McClinton, Gene Vincent, Bill Medley, Joe South, Linda Jones, Michael McDonald, Garnet Mimms, Rod Stewart, Billy Paul, David Allan Coe, Ronnie McDowell, Randy Crawford, The Winstons, Roy Hamilton, The Elgins, Bobby Vee, Johnny Paycheck, Billy Fury, Lloyd Price, Ted Hawkins, Greg Kihn, Freddie Scott, Jim Croce, Gallery

TV and movie apperances (movies in italics): "The Joey Bishop Show" (1968), "The David Frost Show" (1969), "The Tonight Show" (1970, 1973), "The Ed Sullivan Show" (1971), "Soul Train" (1972, 1974, 1982), The Thing with Two Heads (1972), Save The Children (1973), "The History of Rock and Roll" (1995), "Only the Strong Survive" (2002)

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Fontenot, Robert. "In the Spotlight: Jerry Butler." ThoughtCo, Jun. 21, 2012, Fontenot, Robert. (2012, June 21). In the Spotlight: Jerry Butler. Retrieved from Fontenot, Robert. "In the Spotlight: Jerry Butler." ThoughtCo. (accessed October 22, 2017).