Jerry Butler was born in Sunflower, Mississippi in 1939. His family moved to Chicago in 1944. His interest in singing began by singing in church groups and with the Northern Jubilee Gospel Singers. Curtis Mayfield was also a member of that group.
Butler and Mayfield joined an R&B group, The Quails. But, in 1957, he and Mayfield would join another vocal group, The Roosters, with Sam Gooden and brothers, Arthur and Richard Brooks. In 1957, they changed their name to The Impressions and he would have only one major hit with them. Butler left the group in 1958 for a solo career. Mayfield would continue with The Impressions and have a string of hits.
He was dubbed “The Iceman” by Philadelphia disc jockey, Georgie Woods, who saw Butler perform there.
Butler also wrote many songs, including co-writing “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” with Otis Redding
Jerry Butler would have a successful solo career, scoring thirty-nine hits on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. On Billboard’s R&B charts, he would have three number one hits.
Here’s a look at Jerry Butler’s ten biggest pop hits according to the Billboard Top Pop Singles Charts.
1. Only The Strong Survive – 1969 – Written by Butler and Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, his biggest pop song would go to number one on the R&B charts. Elvis Presley and Billy Paul would do cover versions of this song.
2. Let it Be Me – 1964 – Here, Jerry teams up with soul singer Betty Everett. Previously released by the Everly Brothers in 1960, this song was first recorded as a French song in 1955 as “Je t’appartiens.”
3. He Will Break Your Heart – 1960 – Written by Butler and Curtis Mayfield, Tony Orlando and Dawn took this song to number one in 1975 and changed the title to “He Don’t Love You (Like I Do).”
4. Moon River – 1961 – Although Butler’s version made it to number eleven on the pop charts, this Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer tune won the Academy Award for Best Original Song as sung by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 movie “Breakfast At Tiffany’s.” Andy Williams, never released this song as a single, used it as his signature song.
5. For Your Precious Love – 1958 – Butler’s only hit with The Impressions was ranked #335 in Rolling Stone’s Top 500 songs of all times in 2010. He would re-record this song in 1966, but it barely cracked the weekly Top 100 charts.
6. Hey, West Union Man – 1968 – This was Butler’s second number one single on the Billboard’s R&B charts. It reached #16 on the pop charts.
7. Never Give You Up – 1968 – From his “The Iceman Cometh” album, it was covered in 2010 by The Black Keys as “Never Gonna Give You Up.”
8. Make It Easy On Yourself – 1962 – Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, it was originally recorded by Dionne Warwick, but her label didn’t want to release it. Butler hearing the track, used the same arrangement as Warwick’s and Butler had his first solo hit. In 1965, The Walker Brothers also had a top 20 hit with it.
9. What’s The Use Of Breaking Up – 1969 – From his “Ice On Ice” album, the flip side of this top twenty hit was “Brand New Me” which never cracked the Top 100 charts, but was a huge hit for Dusty Springfield.
10. Ain’t Understanding Mellow – 1971 – Jerry teamed up with artist Brenda Lee Eager for this soulful tune. Eager was the lead vocalist with Butler’s backup singers and recorded several songs together that charted, but none as successful as this one.
Today, Jerry Butler continues to perform while serving as a Cook County Board Commissioner. He won re-election in 2014. He currently lives in Chicago with his wife, Annette, who is one of his backup singers. He has been host on PBS TV music specials featuring many Doo Wop and R&B groups.
In 1991, Jerry Butler was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.