By Ralph De Palma
To honor someone is a very special moment worthy of respect and admiration. Throughout history great writers from Homer to Shakespeare have described the qualities of honor in glowing prose. To bestow an honor on another is a recognition of one’s special talent but also a recognition of one’s ideals, integrity, and inner qualities. To bestow an honor is to acknowledge excellence in our society. To be honored by the city that you love is very special.
Tuesday August 6th ,2019, the Key West City Commission passed unanimous legislation to officially change the name of the new Key West Truman Waterfront Amphitheater to the Lofton “Coffee” Butler Amphitheater. By doing so they have officially honored a very special Key Wester. Coffee Butler has been making Key West smile all his life. Key West has finally succeeded in returning the favor with honor and pride.
Coffee was the favorite music student of Ellen Welters Sanchez who taught practically everyone in Key West music for over 60 years. She saw something special in Coffee Butler. It was Ellen Sanchez’s inspiration that brought Coffee back to Key West and to music after a brief minor league baseball career with the Palm Beach Rockets.
Ellen Sanchez wrote a song called “The Beautiful Ilse of Key West”. She asked Coffee Butler to perform that song for President Harry Truman when Division Street was renamed Truman Avenue.
Coffee Butler has performed for many of the famous. Tennessee Williams brought Tallulah Bankhead to hear him perform. Leonard Bernstein shared his piano bench. He jammed with the Beatles late one night.
Visitors to Key West enjoyed his special style as he performed for the first visiting cruise ships on the old Mallory docks. Coffee Butler shared his special gifts generously with others. He has taught many fellow musicians and vocalists how to entertain. He allowed a young Jimmy Buffet to perform during his breaks at Howies Lounge. Coffee also revived the Butler family’s Bahamian “Key West Junkanoos” band.
The bygone Hukilau restaurant on North Roosevelt was Coffee Butler home gig for over twenty years. He entertained with all the best Key West musicians, Buddy Chavez, Bobby Lowe, and a special life long friend, vocalist Cliff Sawyer would sit in frequently while covering Al Green songs.