Roger Bennett goes Home

I wasn’t sure whether or not I should post my reflections on Roger Bennett’s funeral. With over 50,000 people watching it online, I imagine that nearly everyone who reads this blog will either have been there, have watched online, or will watch the DVD that the church will make available.

The funeral started ten minutes late. I was amazed beyond belief when the pastor began by saying they had delayed it so that those of us who were watching online could see it. He said that 50,000 people had tuned in, and this had crashed the server. He joked that Roger must be taking a perverse delight in figuring out how to crash a computer at his own funeral!

Legacy Five sang “In His Grip,” a song Roger wrote.

Rev. Glenda McDonald, chaplain at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, spoke about Roger’s last years and his last days. There were several times in his final days, after he was taken off life support and was beyond the point where he was supposed to be able to communicate, where he opened his eyes and followed what his wife Debbie was saying. He even squeezed her hand several times, and mouthed the words “I love you too” several hours before he passed away.

They played an audio recording of Roger Bennett singing “I’ve Read the Back of the Book” (with the Josh Cobb-era Legacy Five), and displayed pictures from his life on a video screen.

Jordan Bennett sang a song about saying goodbye. His voice has obviously not fully matured yet, but he sounded so much like his father that it blew me away.
Scott Fowler, who has spent the last sixteen years on the road with Roger Bennett (nearly Fowler’s entire professional career), led the audience in singing “What a Friend” and “Victory in Jesus,” Bennett’s two favorite hymns. Then Legacy Five came on stage to join him singing “Jesus Saves.”

They then played a second song (audio) from Roger, his recording of “Home Free.” I won’t try to capture in words what it was like, but it was simply amazing.

Phil Hoskins delivered the main sermon. He made some excellent points, including reminding the audience that we will be with Roger far longer than we will be without him.

He closed with a story about a little girl who got off the bus every day after school and ran across the street to look at a doll in the toy shop window. One day as she was running across the street, a car hit her. She was taken to the hospital and was in a coma for seven days. While she was in a coma, the toy shop owner brought that doll and laid it next to her in the bed. Later that day, she came out of her coma, opened her eyes, and the first thing she saw was the doll. She looked at it, and her first words were: “Mommy, the glass is gone!”

All these years, Roger Bennett has been beholding our Savior through a glass, darkly…until now.

Now whether it was something man planned or something God planned I do not know, but the next thing that happened, the final event in the service, was a video of Roger Bennett singing “We are Home” with Legacy Five. The second verse says:

For years we had lived in a place not our own
Occupied country, the enemy’s throne
Never belonging and so out of place
Constantly striving to finish this race

Now we are standing as trophies of grace
Anxiously awaiting a glimpse of His face
The veil has been lifted, the glass has been cleared
With loud hallelujahs the King has appeared!

We are home…

Wow.

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Memories of Roger Bennett

Over the last few days, several fond memories of Roger Bennett have come to mind.

Via a Cathedrals compilation project, Roger Bennett introduced me to Southern Gospel piano playing. “I’m in the Gloryland Way” was my first exposure to what a Southern Gospel piano solo sounds like. Even now, I’m still blown away by his rendition of that song.

I remember listening to the Fan Awards live on my local radio station in 2005, I think. Roger told the audience he’d made a deal with God that if he could just see his kids graduate from high school, God could take him Home. He said that earlier that year, he had been able to see his son walk the aisle, and God had granted his request. At this point, he had the audience in the palm of his hand, and I doubt there was a dry eye in the house. But just as quick as that, he turned things around. He said he’d told God that he wanted to re-negotiate his agreement (“maybe grandkids?”). Of course, the audience burst laughing. Only a Roger Bennett could pull that off.

But of all my favorite Roger Bennett memories, one stands head and shoulders above the rest. In mid-2004, I first discovered Southern Gospel music and the local SG radio station. One night I turned on the radio and heard applause between the songs. It didn’t take me long to figure out that this must be the National Quartet Convention I’d read about, and that my local radio station must be carrying it live.

Legacy Five came on, and I was impressed. I knew that of the three members of the final Cathedrals lineup, two were members of that group. When Roger Bennett told his testimony and introduced “Whispers in the Night,” it was a powerful moment. Legacy Five was greeted by a “standing ovation and then some” and prepared to leave the stage.

But just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, Signature Sound came on stage. Ernie Haase asked Legacy Five to stay on the stage, and the two groups sang “Oh What a Savior” together.

Now I was pretty new to Southern Gospel, but I knew a thing or two. I knew that the Cathedrals were my favorite group, bar none, and that even for a National Quartet Convention, this was something out of the ordinary.

I can still hear Ernie saying, “It’s been a long time, Roger. Let’s do it like we..like we used to.” And that’s just what they did.

That was to my knowledge the final time Roger, Ernie, and Scott ever shared the same stage.

I’ve said before that I was never fortunate enough to hear the Cathedrals live and in person. But as I sat by my radio late that September night, for a few shining moments I knew what it must have been like.

Thanks for the memories, Roger.

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Home Free: Roger Bennett

The chills are going up and down my spine and I cannot believe my eyes. A few seconds ago, I opened an email from the Singing News which said that Roger Bennett just passed away. I simply cannot believe that this has really happened.

When he joined the Cathedral Quartet as a young kid in 1979 or 1980, nobody dreamed that he would be the first to join George and Glen in glory. But what a homecoming they must be having right now…

I just started playing his solo on Legacy Five’s song “Home Free.” That song is
now more poignant than ever, and expresses my feelings more than anything I could say.

Home free, eventually
At the ultimate healing we will be home free
Home free, oh, I’ve got a feeling
At the ultimate healing we will be home free

UPDATE: Debbie Bennett has posted an update to Roger’s blog. What really got to me about this post is that she quoted “Home Free,” too.

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Songwriter John Peterson Passes Away

John Peterson, who wrote songs like “Surely Goodness and Mercy” and “Over the Sunset Mountains,” passed away on September 20th. During his long career, he wrote over 1,000 Gospel songs, and founded the John W. Peterson Music Company. He is survived by his wife of 62 years and by his three daughters.

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