Beatrice Phyllis Carter Butler, Queen mother matriarch, longtime Philadelphia educator and noted church organist and choir director, has ascended. She was 98 at the time of her passing, remembered by all who knew her as an ebullient burst of positive energy.
Mrs. Butler was born Jan. 15, 1922, in Philadelphia, the oldest child of Floyd and Pearl Carter. Floyd Carter worked in the shipyards in Philly and Pearl worked as a housekeeper. Beatrice and her siblings all showed promise as musicians from an early age, Beatrice in particular relishing her piano lessons from a teacher she recalled as “Mr. Ferguson.” At age 13, she was enrolled at the prestigious Granoff School of Music, whose alumni include Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane. At age 15, Beatrice’s career as a faith-based musician began as she became the pianist and assistant organist at White Rock Baptist Church in Philadelphia.
According to her family, she had the hands of a blues player, fingertips padded like piano hammers, and one could discern how she pounded out the troubles of her day as she pulled the chord progressions together to play standards such as “Precious Lord.”
Beatrice graduated from West Philadelphia High School. She met her future husband, Benjamin Butler Sr., at White Rock and married at the age of 18.
The newlywed Butlers started their family at the League Island Homes in South Philadelphia, and Beatrice gave birth to three children: Joan, Dorothy and Benjamin Jr.
In 1948 the Butlers left Philadelphia and relocated to Long Island, N.Y., settling down in Cutchogue, a rural farming community on the East End of the island. Beatrice quickly found her bearings in the work force, obtaining employment at a duck farm and later working at a Grumman factory. She also found a new church home, joining Unity Baptist Church in Mattituck, N.Y., pastored by Reverend Willis Hobson and Bassey McCain. Beatrice served as the organist and pianist at Unity for 20 years.
As her children began their adult lives, she returned to Philadelphia to care for her parents. Beatrice became the music director and organist for Holy Cross Baptist Church, led by Reverend Joseph H. Beatty, where she served for over 40 years. Upon returning home, Beatrice embarked on a career as a paraprofessional in the Philadelphia public school system, working with special education students for 25 years. Even in her retirement, former students stayed in regular contact with her, a testament to her efficacy as an educator.
Beatrice’s stature as a musician continued to grow, and according to her younger sister Pearl Williams, who herself found notoriety as a jazz vocalist, Beatrice’s name was synonymous with well-known musicians in Philadelphia. She became a sought-after accompanist for soloists throughout the city, and after retiring from her duties at Holy Cross, played for several other area churches, most notably Vine Memorial Baptist Church and Transfiguration Baptist.
Her acumen as a musician also took her on the road; she was a 30-year member and attendee of the Hampton University Ministers’ Conference; she was also a lifetime member of the National Association of Negro Musicians. Beatrice’s work and her steadfast character garnered her a host of longtime friends in New York, Philadelphia and beyond.
Beatrice’s husband, Benjamin Sr., passed in 1999, and she retired from playing and relocated to Long Island, taking up residence with her son, Benjamin Butler Jr., and daughter-in-law, Sonja Butler.
In her final days she was cared for at the Acadia Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Riverhead, N.Y. Beatrice peacefully transitioned on May 6, 2020.
Her passing was preceded by the transition of two of her sisters, Hazel Hancock and Mildred Halliburton, and one brother, Robert Carter. Her eight grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren and scores of nieces and nephews will all miss what her nephew Michael Hancock articulated about her: “She spoiled us rotten, her smile would light up a room, her joy would warm your soul and her love was felt by everyone who knew her!”
This is a paid notice.