Music of Advent: Jonathan Butler


MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Today is Friday, December 6th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Megan Basham.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

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Well, coming next, the music of Advent.

From now until Christmas, we’re ending each week with a musical selection.

Today, a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter and guitarist. He tells World Radio’s Myrna Brown about his rendition of one of the most well-loved Advent hymns of all time.

SONG: O Come, O Come Emmnauel and ransom captive Israel. 

JONATHAN BUTLER: When I sang that song, I literally was thinking only about how powerful the words were and the message of Christ. 

MYRNA BROWN, REPORTER: In Apartheid-era South Africa, Jonathan Butler didn’t grow up singing the 8th century Latin poem, turned song, O Come, O Come Emmanuel. He was introduced to the Advent hymn as an adult. The youngest of 13 children, Butler’s family lived impoverished.

BUTLER: We didn’t have electricity or water. We had an outside stove that was wooden. 

Butler, the first black artist who broke barriers on White South African radio, says despite their lack of material things, his parents and siblings treasured time around the warm fire, celebrating the birth of Christ.

BUTLER: Christmas was colorful. Capetown was a vibrant city. And even where there’s great poverty, greater is the spirit. So, I really carry that and I wanted to carry that into this album.

And I was trying to just really deconstruct the song so you would hear the powerful words and the powerful, haunting melody that the song has. It just stands alone. I wasn’t thinking about anything. How can you with a song like that? You really have to be introspective and sing it from a pure place, you know?

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Myrna Brown.


(Photo/Jonathan Butler)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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