Bett Butler, pianist and vocalist, and bassist Joël Dilley. Credit: Courtesy / Melanie Rush Davis

Walking into Dragon Lady Studios, local musicians Bett Butler and Joël Dilley’s home away from home, evokes the same tranquility and softness as the couple’s recordings – almost as though these were the visible vibrations the two have been sharing for more than 30 years.

It is no coincidence that a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi adorns the wall of the sound booth that the two jazz community staples own, as both have dedicated their lives to acts of justice and compassion through music. Pianist and vocalist Butler and husband Dilley, who plays bass, find themselves more motivated than ever before to give back and confirm their reputation as some of San Antonio’s most generous musicians.

On Feb. 3, Butler and Dilley joined leaders from Bandcamp, an online music streaming platform known for its Fair Trade Music Policy, in donating one day’s worth of proceeds to the American Civil Liberties Union. The initiative served as an act of solidarity in response to President Donald Trump’s executive order banning travelers from seven predominantly-Muslim nations. Bandcamp donated more than $100,000 to the ACLU.

“Our fans are all along the political spectrum, so we expected a few ‘Unsubscribes.’ But were pleasantly surprised by the response, and were able to send a nice check,” Butler said told the Rivard Report. “In these times we would regret not speaking out against the things we see that are disturbing.”

In an email to her and Dilley’s followers, Butler, who frequently hosts artists from India, Finland, Mexico, and other countries at Dragon Lady Studios, emphasized that music “more than anything helps us realize our shared humanity.”

The couple is known for regularly supporting other philanthropic efforts through their music – so much so that Butler felt the need to clarify that “proceeds from ‘Someone’s Child’ will still go to the Elf Louise Christmas Project, and proceeds from ‘Walk In My Shoes’ will still go to Cure SMA” during the Bandcamp initiative.

“We’ve always been very interested in justice and fairness and kindness – a better world,” Butler said. “As musicians, we’ve always thought that our music is what we have to give.”

Aside from helping weave the philanthropic fabric for musicians, Butler and Dilley have created a way for people to personally embody the act of listening, the art of peace, and the process of stillness.

Joël Dilley and Bett Butler perform at Casbeers. Credit: Courtesy / Jack Leyva

“Several years back Joël started the Mandala Meditation Series, composing music for meditative relaxation – for things you do in everyday life,” Butler said, adding that it has helped her cope with the stress of paperwork and accounting that accompany the business that she and Dilley run on their own. “I began making videos to accompany the music, collaborating with artists from across the world – another aspect of wanting our music to just do something positive and create a few better moments.”

For Dilley’s Mandala Meditation Series on Bandcamp, click here. For the corresponding Youtube channel for your own personal practice, click here.

This dedicated duo has sacrificed a great deal to live a life solely as musicians, investing everything in their craft and keeping excellence and integrity at the forefront of their endeavors.

“There are no shortcuts, no vacations, we don’t hang out with friends, we work all the time,” Butler said, adding that it’s not really work because they love what they do. “We are living our dream, but it’s a lot of hard work, and there’s no secret to it. If you quit, it’s not gonna happen – if you stay on it, it just might.”

Butler and Dilley, who will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary soon, are blessed with one another’s support. Not all musicians are so lucky.

“It’s unthinkable to do this alone,” Butler said of working in the music industry. “You need people who believe in you, an amazing amount of passion that drives you – it’s a very, very difficult business.”

A portrait of Mahatma Gandhi hangs in the Dragon Lady Studio’s sound room. Credit: Courtesy / Bett Butler

While Butler believes that the digital age has rendered artists’ musical environments less important, she advocates for a variety of issues and supports locally based musicians.

“What would really help is if we had affordable health care, strong unions to work for better pay, the same things we need everywhere in all industries,” she said. “Every other week there is a fundraiser for a musician who is facing medical bills. If you’re not healthy, you won’t be successful.”

As organizations like the Musicians Society of San Antonio, a local union affiliated with the American Federation of Musicians, help to advocate for these issues, Butler and Dilley will continue to actively inspire musicians who are dedicated to supporting one another until the paradigm shifts.

“That is why we want to stick with those principles of kindness and justice,” Butler said. “[We want to create] something that will add a positive note to people’s lives.”

Adam Tutor

Adam Tutor is a Trinity University graduate, a saxophonist who performs with local bands Soulzzafying, Odie & the Digs, and Volcan, and a freelance music contributor to the Rivard Report.