Otto Benson has held many titles: soldier, veteran, funeral home director and music promoter. In the world of gospel music, though, he's simply "Papa."
The retired funeral home director and Evans resident said his love of gospel music grew into an unpaid 35-year side gig of promoting spiritual concerts and churches throughout the Augusta area.
Not only was he an unpaid promoter, he and his wife Irmgard, who musicians called "Mama," would often let the bands stay at their home.
"I never did it to make a living out of it," said Benson, 74, though through the years he has brought such names as the Nightingales and the Cathedral Quartet to Augusta churches, which paid the bands through love offerings.
"I got a lot of friends in Southern gospel music because they knew I'd work so cheap," he said.
Benson's latest effort is a free concert at 6 p.m. Sunday featuring Tennessee group The Roarks at the Jabez Sanford Performing Arts Center at the Columbia County Library in Evans.
The concert is presented by Faith Community Ministry, a mission of Augusta's Macedonia Baptist Church, which holds a 9 a.m. Sunday service in the center each week.
Benson and his wife met members of a gospel band years ago while on vacation and asked the group to sing in Augusta. They exchanged phone numbers, and one day the couple got a call; the group, was nearby and needed a church to perform in.
The Bensons arranged for a concert at their church, and soon more groups came calling, he said.
"These groups stay in touch with each other and the (word got out) that if you want to sing in Augusta, you talk to Mr. Benson," he said.
Some weeks, Benson said, he would bring three to four groups to Augusta.
"I was pretty popular with churches because I could often get them groups they could not afford," he said.
Despite diabetes, severe frostbite on his feet during service in the Korean War that reduced his mobility and exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam, Benson teamed with Faith Community Minister Norman V. Carter to bring The Roarks to Columbia County.
This time, Benson, who lives at Morningside of Evans assisted living facility, had the band but no church.
He turned to Carter, who also ministers at Morningside, to help find a place for the group to play after a previous gig fell through.
"Gospel music has its own feeling, so we know no matter where we are the presence of God will be there," Carter said.
The two men said they hope Sunday's concert will be the first of many they bring to Columbia County.
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