Only a few singers whose first names are instantly recognizable; Whitney, Rihanna, Beyoncé and Michael. In the Bahamas, there is one name that everyone recognizes its Ronnie.
Ronnie Butler is one of the biggest and most respected performers in the Bahamas and has been so for more than four decades. I am nervous. Normally I am a stickler for time, but this morning I am running at least fifteen minutes late for my interview with the beloved icon. As entertainers go in the Bahamas, he is at the top of the food chain. I don’t want to keep him waiting. He is known to be extremely direct; he’s earned it. I do not want to catch his ire.
However Ronnie is a consummate professional, I tell myself. He has been in the business for fifty-five years. It is this knowledge that calms me as I walk towards the table at his favorite breakfast spot, “The Reef “. He won’t throw a hissy fit because I am late, I tell myself as I walk toward his table. He glances up but does not smile nor does he get up as I hastily pull out my chair. In my head, I accept this as a sort of punishment for my lateness. We are even. Pleasantries are exchanged and I finally get a chance to look over the Bahamian legend. With snow-white hair, and wearing gold-rimmed aviator shades, he looked as virile as some of his photos of when he was younger. He is wearing a crisp white t-shirt and blue denim jeans. He appears cool and calm. “What have you been up to lately?’ I ask him, trying to break the ice while I wrestle my tape recorder out of my bag. “Is that all you want to know?” He responds saucily. I assure him that I am there to listen to his entire life story we begin.
His life story is a well documented one with his musical journey beginning At 16, after he had joined a neighborhood band playing only the maracas. Several months later, he joined the “Alexander’s Trio.” Soon after, he began performing with “King Eric and His Knights” for seven years, then “Ronnie and the Ramblers” and “Ronnie Butler and Fire.” His popularity as a local act enabled him to travel worldwide and he cites one of his proudest moment as performing at the world renowned Apollo Theatre in Harlem. “ I performed in Bahamian clothes singing Bahamian songs to a standing room only audience,” he says. He has travelled everywhere in the western world promoting the Bahamas and its music. He has been semi retired for the past two years, but as a musician with a passion for the industry Ronnie clearly has no plans to fully retire anytime soon. “I have a semi jazz album which has been recorded and finished since December but I plan on releasing it by July”, he tells me. Not one to rest on his laurels he is already in the process of recording an inspirational CD with old standards songs like Danny Boy, Never Walk Alone and Climb Every Mountain and more. He tells me he also plans to do another CD of Bahamian songs. The releasing of those three albums will bring his album count to 18 since He has fifteen Albums already under his belt. These albums have garnered several well-known hits over the years. Including; Married Man, a song which was recently featured in the Tyler Perry movie “Why Did I Get Married Too”
In 2001, Ronnie recorded his unbelievable 15th album entitled: “Ronnie Butler – The Colors of Life,” which reflected all aspect of Bahamian life and inspiration over his many years of recording. It included hits, such as “Dance With Me,” “What We Ga Do” and “Sweet Music Man.”
During his career and as early as the 50s, Ronnie Butler was performing in places such as The Big Bamboo, The Rum Keg, Trade Winds and Ronnie’s Rebel Room. He also became the first of many artists that appeared at the Nassau Beach Hotel’s Out Island Bar. These were some of the hottest nightspots in the Bahamas at this time. “The love of the music is what has kept me in it for so long,” Ronnie says of his half century of being on the stage. “ I still do I love it more today than when I first started. I get fulfillment. What is good for me is when I stand on the stage and know that you the public are enjoying what I am doing, that’s the good part. It’s very gratifying. Bahamian music and performers needs more exposure and I will continue my part in making that happen.”
Regardless of the difficulties Ronnie has done what many of today’s Bahamian artists have not been able to do- Garner the support of Bahamians young and old- He has been given many awards for his contribution to the growth and development of his community. On receiving The Cacique Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004, he credited “King Eric” Gibson as the person responsible for his stardom. “Member of the Most Excellent Order of The British Empire (MBE) is but a few of the many others awards bestowed upon Ronnie. He attributes all his awards to his numerous fans.
Nowadays Ronnie only performs at private functions with an occasional concert. He spends his days writing new music and reading books. He still continues to be the best beloved musician and performer in the Bahamas.
By Nadine Thomas-Brown | Published in Profiles98 Magazine – Summer 2010 issue 4