Born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa during apartheid, Jonathan Butler started singing and playing acoustic guitar as a child. Racial segregation and poverty during apartheid has been the subject of many of his records. His first single, the first by a black artist played by white radio stations in the racially segregated South Africa, earned a Sarie Award, South Africa's equivalent to the Grammys.
He began touring at the age of seven when he joined a travelling stage show, and was later signed up to perform on a string of hit recordings, turning him into a local teenage idol. In 1978 he found the inspiration and encouragement to begin expressing himself as a composer and songwriter when he joined Cape Town's best known jazz/rock outfit, Pacific Express. Two albums were recorded with the Express personnel, and some Pacific Express songs were later released on the 1988 "7th Avenue" album.
Butler was signed to Jive Records in 1977, and in the early 1980s he moved to England where he remained for 17 years. His international breakthrough came in 1987 with his Grammy nominated hit "Lies" and his version of the Staple Singers song "If You're Ready (Come Go with Me)", which he performed with Ruby Turner.
Butler maintained a loyal following in the 1980s and 1990s, in South Africa, the U.S. and Europe.
In 2006, Butler was featured vocalist on the CD titled "Gospel Goes Classical," produced by University of Alabama at Birmingham music professor Henry Panion. This recording rose to #2 on the Billboard Gospel chart, and #3 on the Classical Crossover chart.