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Sherry Wilson Butler & All That Jazz

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More than halfway into her performance at the 2009 6th Annual West Oak Lane Jazz and Arts Festival, Sherry Wilson Butler had one simple Sherry Wilson Butlerquestion for the audience: “Can I do one or two more?”

“Five or six!” someone yelled from the audience. “All night long!” another onlooker shouted. It’s true; one can’t help but be engrossed when Butler hits the stage. Between the fast-paced beating of the congas and the imaginary limbo stick she shimmies under during her reggae-inspired routine, you can’t help but to sway your hips and imagine you’re on the island of a far away place.

“You don’t know what some people are going through,” says Butler about her audience. “Some people are going through mental and physical abuse, monetary problems, and homelessness. It’s at that moment that I hope I took them to someplace in a positive direction.”

She must be doing something right because performing at the WOL Jazz Festival this year was hardly her first time doing so. She’s been a performer at the festival for the past five years and she doesn’t seem to mind the honor.

“I always enjoy myself at the festival,” she says. “I love the people there. As long as I see those faces out there and the music is good and the band is acting like they have some sense, then we can have a good time,” she says with a laugh.

There’s no doubt that the North Philly-bred jazz singer has music rooted deep down in her veins. At the tender age of nine, she knew she wanted to be a singer, but couldn’t quite make the grade with her less-than-thrilled parents.

“I had parents who were not very supportive because they wanted to raise a schoolteacher, so I had to sneak to sing,” she recalls.

That’s when Butler, who eventually went on to sing backup for local legends like Teddy Pendergrass and Patti LaBelle, took matters in her own hands.

“When I was about 13 years old, I would sneak to a place in South Philly called the Paradise Club to sing.”

As luck would have it, it was her mother’s firm belief in education that got Butler her first singing gig.

“My mother would make me go and read all the time. When I would read, I would read about faraway places like Italy and Africa and I would say, ‘Oooh, I want to go and sing with those people there!’ One day, I was reading the newspaper and I saw an ad for a ‘Show-a-Rama,’ which was a show for the stars. I said, ‘That’s where I belong, so where is it?’” she says with a laugh. “I went there and that’s where I got my first opportunity to sing.”

From there, she was able to make contacts and eventually meet her future boss Teddy Pendergrass.

“I think I’m one of the few artists in Philadelphia who has had the opportunity to sing with Billy Paul and Teddy Pendergrass, who are both Philadelphia International artists,” she stated. “Philadelphia International artists are the backbone of our city’s music, so I think I’m part of Philly’s history,” she added humbly.

The songwriter is making history of her own here in Philadelphia. Butler, who performed in Greenland, England and Germany before she even started college, finds true passion in giving back to the community as a music teacher. She gives voice lessons at the Philadelphia Clef Club (738 S. Broad Street), Perkins Performance Arts Center in Morristown, NJ, and through a non-profit organization called Musicopia with Barry Sames. When she’s not teaching, the mother of one performs around town at venues like the Relish Restaurant, which she considers a Philly “hidden treasure,” in West Oak Lane and traveling to tropical places. “I’m a Gemini, so we have to move around.”

A busy-bee she is and at this pace, she’s right in line with what she hopes she fulfills as her destiny. “This is what I hope my legacy will be: That I try to connect the music to the people, that I try to educate the people and that I try to serve the people.” She’s well on her way.

Catch Sherry Butler and the Sherry Butler Quartet at Relish Restaurant in North Philly (7152 Ogontz Avenue) July 23rd to July 26th.

Visit www.sherrywilsonbutler.com to purchase her album “Live Life,” available online July 15.