Key West didn’t wait to honor local musical legend Lofton “Coffee” Butler posthumously with a musical venue bearing his name. The local musician and enduring personality, now 91, smiled broadly to friends and relatives as his fingers danced lightly over an electronic keyboard on June 19 at the dedication of the city’s new amphitheater. Butler played for the crowd, but kept glancing shyly at the gleaming white sign that stands taller than Butler himself.
“Lofton ‘Coffee’ Butler was born and raised in Key West,” Key West photographer Ralph De Palma writes in his book, “The Soul of Key West,” about Key West musicians. “Family and friends called him Loffy except for one friend who kept mispronouncing Loffy as ‘Coffee.’ Soon the name stuck. Later, when he was playing at the Hukilau restaurant, the owner’s girlfriend said that story had to be embellished. She came up with the line that Coffee got his name because he was so stimulating.”
Key West’s elected officials spoke of his musical contributions to the city Butler loves and of their own personal memories of Butler, his various bands and his lighthearted songs.
But baseball was Butler’s first love.
“He was an outstanding shortstop and revered Jackie Robinson,” De Palma writes. “After graduating in 1948, (Butler) tried out with the Negro League’s Kansas City Monarchs. Eventually, he played in the Florida/Cuba League for the Palm Beach Rockets, traveling between Miami, Tampa and Cuba in 1950 and 1951.”
In 1952, he was drafted by the U.S. Army rather than another baseball team. He would return to Key West and play music at the Hukilau and other venues around town. Playwright Tennessee Williams shared his piano bench, along with Tallulah Bankhead. Butler also played a set with the Beatles when a hurricane rerouted them to Key West in 1964, De Palma writes.