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Key West mourns island icon Lofton 'Coffee' Butler

 Lofton "Coffee" Butler was born in Key West and turned down opportunities to leave and play bigger venues.
Gwen Filosa
Miami Herald
Lofton "Coffee" Butler was born in Key West and turned down opportunities to leave and play bigger venues.

Coffee Butler was one of Key West's favorite entertainers, so beloved the city named its new waterfront amphitheater in his honor.

Key Westers are mourning the loss of a musical icon. Lofton "Coffee" Butler died Tuesday. He was 93.

In December, Butler told the Miami Herald about how he got his start in music.

"I'm from a musical family," he said. "They had a piano in the house and I used to crawl up on it and play."

He excelled at baseball, too, well enough to go pro. After serving in the Army during the Korean War, he returned home, married and started playing at local spots like the Hukilau.

And he'd play for weddings and funerals in the island's Black community.

"He would not charge a dime, he would just go around spending his time helping people in the community," his son Dennis Butler said. His father was also an avid fisherman, he said.

"We'd go out there and do some conching and catch fish. I remember him as a real good father. He taught us some good values. He taught us about the island," Dennis Butler said.

Coffee Butler had offers to go play bigger venues out of town, but he turned them down.

"He loved Key West so much, he wouldn't leave Key West," his son said.

Clayton Lopez, a cousin, said he heard a slightly different version of the story.

"He loved Key West more and — well, the stories I heard growing up is, he loved his wife more," Lopez said.

One of his signature songs was "The Beautiful Isle of Key West," written by another Key West musical icon, Ellen Welters Sanchez — who was also Butler's music teacher.

In 2020, the city of Key West named its new waterfront amphitheater for him.

A memorial is planned for Feb. 12, though the venue has not yet been determined.

"It will be appropriate on Valentine's weekend," Dennis Butler said. "He was a sweetheart."

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Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.