jonathan butler*Nelson Mandela.  The name alone commands respect.

The world is mourning the death of Mandela, the former President of South Africa, who was a revered humanitarian, a freedom fighter, an anti-apartheid icon, a father of modern South Africa and a giant of history.

Singer Jonathan Butler, who hails from South Africa was as devastated as the rest of the world upon learning of the passing of a man who sought to bring peace to the world.

I recently caught up with Butler to talk about Mandela’s legacy and what he meant to him personally.

nelson mandelaDarlene Donloe:  Of course, I have to ask you about the death of Nelson Mandela.

Jonathan Butler: I tell you what. My heart and my prayers and my spirit goes out to my country. I feel my faith and my hope and my love for me country. It’s stronger today because of Mandela. It’s stronger because of the light this man was. It was expected, but I think we’re all very sad. It’s huge. We are better people because of his ability to think inclusively instead of coming out of prison wanting reparations. Instead, he wanted reconciliation and a country that flourished as a democratic nation. He was a human being that transcended color. I’m deeply saddened.

DD: I’m sure you wanted to be at the memorial.

JB: I want to be there, but I’m on tour.

DD: Had you personally met Mr. Mandela?

JB: I met him on several occasions. I met him with Prince Charles. I also met him intimately.  I was able to sing Amazing Grace on his 93 or 94 birthday. It was a star-studded room. It was a bitter sweet day.

DD: Why?

JB: I had just buried my mother that Saturday and then in the afternoon I had a private moment to sing Amazing Grace to Nelson Mandela. I have deep, deep memories of hearing myself say, ‘Thank you. I love you.’ That’s all I could say. He said, ‘I love you, too.’ He looked like my mother, my father and everyone’s grandfather. Nothing makes me more proud than to have known him.

DD: He was certainly a man like no other.

JB: Man, think about it, through the time of 27 years, storms, tornadoes, imprisonment, persecution, all of those shaped this man’s life. It could have been shaped sometimes for bad or sometimes for good. His was good. If that doesn’t encourage anybody, to say I can do better. I know that I don’t have an excuse.

DD: How would you like your country to respond?

JB: Our country should now embrace that we have a father of a nation whose behavior was so exemplary. We should follow that. Lets make our country better.

DD: Tell me what you felt when you first heard of his passing.

JB: My first thought was that he was a light. He was with us and among us. He has now joined the father of lights. He’s in the presence of God. Our country, this man has put South Africa on the front stage of the world and showed how a world leader can reconcile your nation through humility, without wanting anything in return – except freedom.

DD: He wanted peace for the world. He didn’t care about color.

JB: He had a whole different mindset for being black and being a human being.  You don’t see Christians behaving this way. A lot of people don’t fan out like that. It’s an amazing thing. I was with Bill and Hillary Clinton and Mandela’s wife and Quincy Jones, Forest Whitaker and Clint Eastwood. We all  pledged to support the Nelson Mandela Day. It’s a deep thing.

(Following the success of Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday celebrations in London’s Hyde Park in June 2008, it was decided to celebrate his birthday each year with a day dedicated to his life’s work and that of his charitable organizations, and to ensure his legacy continues. The Mandela Day campaign message is simple: Mandela gave 67 years of his life fighting for the rights of humanity. So everyone is asked to give 67 minutes of their time, whether it’s supporting their chosen charity or serving their local community. Mandela Day is a call to action for individuals – for people everywhere – to take responsibility for changing the world into a better place, one small step at a time).

DD: I know it’s sad that he’s gone. But there is also joy that he was here.

JB: The joy that I feel is that we have great people in the world. He’s one that just shined bright. We will talk about him like we do Ghandi and Dr. King, as well as our great ancestors.

Butler is currently on the Dave Koz Christmas Tour with Koz, Keiko Matsui and Oleta Adams.  He has also released a holiday CD called Merry Christmas To You. http://www.jonathanbutler.com/

Journalist Darlene Donloe is based in Southern California. Contact her at [email protected]

darlene donloe

Darlene Donloe