He studied cornet with Frank Simons, but later switched to studying medicine. He did not give up on music and quit medicine after finding success as a trumpeter. Early in his career he played in the band of Austin Wylie. He gained attention working with Bob Crosby (1937-1940), and later worked with Artie Shaw, Les Brown, and Benny Goodman. On October 7, 1940, during his brief stay with Artie Shaw's orchestra, he performed what has been described as a "legendary trumpet solo" on the hit song "Stardust." Between 1943 and 1947, taking a break to serve in Uncle Sam's army, Billy led his own orchestra. On September 20, 1944, Capitol recorded the jazz standard "Moonlight In Vermont", which featured a vocal by Margaret Whiting and a trumpet solo by Billy. The liner notes from the CD Capitol From The Vaults, Volume 2, "Vine Street Divas" indicate that, although 'Billy Butterfield & His Orchestra' were credited with the song, it was really the Les Brown band recording under the name of Billy Butterfield because Brown was under contract to another label at the time. He recorded two albums with Ray Conniff in the 1950s ("Conniff meets Butterfield") and 1960s ("Just Kiddin' Around"). Later in the 1960s he recorded two albums with his own orchestra for Columbia Records. Billy was a member of the World's Greatest Jazz Band led by Yank Lawson and Bob Haggart from the late 1960's until his death in 1988. He also freelanced as a guest star with many bands all over the world, and performed at many Jazz festivals, including the Manassas Jazz Festival and Dick Gibson's Bash in Colorado.