College of Charleston SCHOOL OF THE ARTS

Donation Announced for Charleston Jazz Initiative

The family of Robert Spann Cathcart Jr. donated a collection of photographs, manuscripts and more than 50 songs (including music manuscripts and recordings) composed by Cathcart to the College of Charleston  Charleston Jazz Initiative. The Jazz Initiative is a jazz history and research project administered jointly by the arts management program, School of the Arts, and Avery Research Center.  Cathcart was a well-known songwriter in Charleston during the 1920s-1960s.  Donation of the collection, which had been organized by Paul Cathcart, the songwriter‚s Atlanta-based son, took place during a formal program held on Tuesday, November 24 at 2:30 p.m.  in the McKinley Washington Auditorium at the Avery Research Center, 125 Bull Street.

Robert (Bobby) Spann Cathcart (November 25, 1909 – June 27, 1992) was born in Charleston to Dr. Robert S. Cathcart, surgeon, general practitioner, and professor of surgery at The Medical College (now MUSC) who was instrumental in the building of Roper Hospital. Dr. Cathcart was a son of Col.William R. Cathcart, C.S.A., who fought with distinction at Fort Sumter.  Bobby’s  mother,  Katherine Morrow Cathcart, was descended from families that founded Birmingham, Ala. Cathcart met his childhood sweetheart, Elizabeth Hamilton Seabrook, in Charleston. They married in April 1936 and had five children – Elizabeth Seabrook, Robert Spann III, Paul Hamilton, William Richard and John Temple.

As a young child, Cathcart’s musical abilities were encouraged by his mother and Elizabeth O’Neill Verner, prolific artist and  mother of his good friend, Dave Verner.  One year, as a birthday present for young Bobby, his mother invited the Paul Whiteman Orchestra to perform at their home. The orchestra, a popular band of the day, was performing a concert in Charleston.

Over his songwriting career, which spanned the decades from  the 1920s – when American popular song was flourishing – to the 1960s, Cathcart wrote 62 songs.  During these years, he wrote songs about the war (”I’m Dreaming of a Soldier”), love and politics, as well as humorous songs and  others that  extolled  the virtues of his beloved Charleston and South Carolina (”I Left My Heart in Charleston”). The best known are those wherein he collaborated with others. These included six songs composed with Joseph (Fud) Livingston, his friend and prolific instrumentalist, songwriter and arranger. The most famous of these collaborations is “Springtime in Charleston” (1947) which, together with their “Saint Michael’s Chimes,” won first and second place, respectively in a contest held in 1947 by the Charleston Challenges during the Azalea Festival. “Sandman’s Lullaby” (1948) was another collaborative work with Livingston and Hank Fort, Nashville native, singer, actress and songwriter.

By 1947, Cathcart conceived a musical comedy about a mulatto who was sadly rejected by both races. The musical includes songs written exclusively by Cathcart and was later completed in 1968 by Ernest Travis, leader of the Charleston Rebel Band at that time.  Titled “Lowcountry,” it was never produced.
Cathcart’s own songs often did not have the orchestration, presentation and exposure that professional, nationally known musicians brought to his collaborative efforts. Nevertheless, his songs remain an important collection of Charleston‚s musical and cultural history.

The Robert S. Cathcart Collection will be of interest to cultural historians (particularly those concerned with Charleston and southern history), musicians (notably composers and songwriters), playwrights, ethnomusicologists, musical theater directors, curators and archivists.  The collection will be housed in the Avery Research Center archives as part of the Charleston Jazz Initiative Archival Collection at the College of Charleston.

For more information on the collection, contact Avery‚s archives at 843.953.7609 or Karen Chandler at 843.953.5474 or

To inquire about donating to the Charleston Jazz Initiative, contact Ashley Smith at 843.953.5348 or

The Post and Courier (Preview), Charleston, December 10, 2009