The last notes: Gospel legend Booker T. Cathcart dies

Before Booker T. Cathcart was buried Saturday, there was a funeral where people had to be turned away from the overflowing sanctuary - not because Cathcart was famous, or a big shot, but because of the voice.

For more than 80 years, people heard gospel music sung by this man who came out of a sharecropper's field on the old Rawlinson Farm and worked to make his living as a janitor and factory line worker.

They heard him in churches in York County - and as far away as New York and Washington - and on records carried all over the world.

All recalled "The Little Man from New Hope" who would pack his choir from New Hope United Methodist Church - or other choirs he sang with - into a '39 Ford with fenders rusted off or a '58 station wagon with broken springs.

"Those audiences, Daddy would tell them as he started to bounce and sing, 'If you push me, I will go!,' " recalled Beaufort Cathcart, one of the nine Cathcart children who grew up with the father who was a legend in black gospel music - but almost unknown elsewhere.

"The crowd couldn't get enough. He would take them somewhere."

The songs were a part of the people, straight out of slavery days, and few if any sang it like "Book," said Arthur Cathcart, another son.

"I'm 62 years old, and all my life I heard people say that nobody sang gospel like Booker T.," said Arthur Cathcart. "He had the voice and he had the spirit and he had the love."

Booker T. Cathcart left the fields to work at the Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co., then on the bottling line at the old Pepsi plant.

Back in 2002, as part of the Together as One Hymn Choir, Cathcart received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in South Carolina.

The gospel group, honored for common meter spirituals that require no instruments other than the voice of men and women, was recorded at the Boyd Hill Baptist Church - the same place where the overflow crowd tried to get in Saturday to hear the music when Cathcart was being eulogized.

Sharing the award that year in 2002 was a man from South Carolina who also sang a little bit for a few years - James Brown. That's the kind of company Booker T. Cathcart kept when it came to the importance of music.

He sang at the senior center, he sang to his hospice nurse. He sang almost until he died last week at the age of 92.