The year was 1957. The Soviet Union launched the first satellite into space called Sputnik 1. Gas was only .24 cents per gallon and the average monthly rent cost was $90. Americans crammed movie theaters to watch “The Bridge Over the River Kwai,” while “Perry Mason” and “Maverick” graced the small screen for the first time.
American children were gaga over Slinkys and Hula Hoops, while teens and young adults continued to Rock and Roll with an artist named “Little Richard.” And four-year-old Sam Butler, Junior, was traveling the country with his father, a minister, and guitarist for The Blind Boys of Mississippi.
“I remember sitting in the car and listening to the Boys rehearse,” says Butler. “At four years of age, I knew all the songs and would often sing along with them as they rehearsed for the next show.”
Archie Brownlee, lead singer of the Mississippi based group heard young Butler sing and suggested that he take the stage at their next event. The crowd loved the addition of the young man to the show and he became a regular fixture during their concert events.
Butler continued to sing with the group, who often traveled with The Blind Boys of Alabama. Butler’s family also had a traveling gospel group. Later, he would join the Blind Boys of Alabama as a full-time member.
When he turned nineteen, he had the opportunity to sing with Dorothy Norwood and The Norwood Singers. It was 1972 and Dorothy Norwood, a former member of the Caravans was the opening act for the Rolling Stones and Stevie Wonder tour. “This is where I was introduced to ‘real sin,'” Butler said.
Thankfully, God spared Sam Butler from becoming involved with the sinful lifestyle he was witnessing. However, Butler experienced a daily battle, both when traveling with secular groups and Christian artists. He became disillusioned with the lifestyle choices of performers who sang praises to the Lord from the stage, but then lived an entirely different lifestyle in their private times. This dichotomy was a constant battle in his heart, as Sam tried to live a Christ-centered life which was taught to him by his father, while he witnessed the contradictory life of those around him.
In the year of 1983, Sam Butler found himself on a very different stage. He was a part of the critically-acclaimed Broadway play, “The Gospel at Colonus.”
In 1989, Butler reconnected with his old pal, Steve Jordan of the Rolling Stones. Jordan had seen Butler in “The Gospel at Colonus” and decided to make contact. Jordan made his way to the backstage of the theater where he waited for Butler to get off of the stage.
“He wanted me to perform on Keith Richards’ new album,” Butler remembers.
In fact, Butler has been featured on many albums, both Christian and secular. In addition to performing on Keith Richards’ 1989 solo album “Talk Is Cheap,” Butler has performed with and contributed to projects with Steely Dan’s Donald Fagan and gospel legend Clarence Fountain.
Though Sam had been singing about the Lord and living relatively close to Him his whole life, he felt as if he had never really made a deep commitment.
“God was drawing me and I couldn’t sleep at night,” said Butler. “I slowly moved toward God.”
Twelve years ago, Butler truly turned his heart and life over to the God he had been singing about his whole life. He started attending church in his hometown of St. Paul, Minn. The pastor of the church and Butler had gone to school together in Vero Beach, Florida, as children.
In fact, as a child, Butler’s pastor had attended the church where Sam Butler’s father was a pastor. Now forty years later, rolls somewhat reversed, Butler attended his church and these two men grew closer to God.
Butler’s faith grew, along with a tugging on his heart to take a new step in his walk with Christ. About a year ago, Butler took the leap of faith and became a pastor. He now pastors his own church in Minneapolis, Minn. The congregation is small, but they are pro-active in helping their community by feeding the homeless and other service projects.
Another project that is near and dear to Pastor Sam’s heart is his documentary, “The Book of Clarence.”
This film reveals the hard-core, honest truth behind the life of the legendary Clarence Fountain. The purpose of the film is to tell this truth.
“People who sing gospel are simply people who need the Lord,” said Butler. “We (as gospel singers) need to start living what we are singing. You can only fool people for a while.”
Bulter hopes that “The Book of Clarence” will help others who preach and sing the gospel, to really live it.
Butler continues to devote much of his time in music ministry. His new release, “Down To The River,” can be found on Revival Music Company.
“Down to the River,” is a beautiful southern gospel song written by James Tullio, and performed by Sam Butler and Clarence Fountain. Sam’s first single of this project is a song that he wrote titled, “Do What The Lord Says Do.” Jimmy Swaggart loved the song so much, that he’s included it a song in his congregational lineup.
Though Butler is busy juggling his duties as pastor of a church, his music career and promoting his film, he still has time for family. Butler has been married to Dr. Valerie Butler, a Doctor of Education, for thirty-two years. Together they have six children.
Butler continues to travel and sing. He’d love to share the good news of Jesus with your church congregation. Interested in having Pastor Sam Butler minister at your event or to your congregation? Contact Jesse Wood, 757-239-9061, connect@revivalmusiccompany.
By Stephanie Kelley, writer, and creative designer for SGNScoops Magazine.