WILBERT McCABE memorized all the major streets of Philadelphia at age 6, took his first piano lessons at age 3 and performed with Paul Robeson at age 6. By 14, he was playing Grieg's Piano Concerto in a Philadelphia church.
It was no wonder this brilliant child prodigy, musician and teacher had no problem remembering the birthdays of children, nieces and nephews, siblings, in-laws and friends.
And the fact that every year he would send out 700 Christmas cards worldwide is not much of a surprise.
Charles Wilbert Hilliard McCabe, a 40-year music teacher in Philadelphia public schools, a concert pianist here and abroad, and an authority on African-American music, died Nov. 13 after a long illness. He was 72 and lived in Yeadon, Delaware County.
Wilbert, as he was known to family and friends, was the author of African American Sacred Music: An Afrocentric Historical Narrative, which was his doctorate dissertation at Temple University and is available on Amazon and at book stores.
He was the choir director of several Philadelphia churches.
"Because of his gentle and generous spirit, Wilbert was beloved by the members and clergy of all of these churches," his family said in a tribute.
During his four-decade career at the Philadelphia School District, he taught music history and music appreciation and was chorale director at Beeber Junior High School, John Bartram High School, Daroff Elementary School and Mastbaum Technical High School.
He also gave private piano lessons.
"Dr. McCabe impacted thousands of young people as they experienced success through recitals, musicals, concerts, and other events," his family wrote.
"The activity of giving piano lessons and presenting the students in recitals was a type of ministry and may have been one of the most rewarding of all of Wilbert's musical endeavors."
He was born in Philadelphia to Wilbert R. and Catherine V.G. Saunders McCabe. He took his first piano lessons from the late Susan Johnson, daughter of Hall Johnson, a renowned composer of Negro spirituals.
He graduated from West Philadelphia High School in 1960. He was known as Charles or Charlie in high school, where he was a member of the orchestra, marching band and choir.
Wilbert went on to West Chester University, where he received a bachelor's degree in music education in 1964. He received a master's degree in applied music, majoring in piano, from Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt University in 1970, a second master's in multicultural education from Eastern University in St. Davids in 1995 and a third master's in African-American studies from Temple University in 2000.
He received his Ph.D. in African-American studies from Temple in in 2009.
One of his advisers was Molefi Kete Asante, a leading figure in the field of African-American studies and a Temple professor.
Wilbert was active with a number of Philadelphia churches, including Millcreek Baptist, of which his wife, the Rev. Dolores E. Lee McCabe, was pastor. He was choir director of Hickman Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church, Reeve Presbyterian Church, St. Augustine Episcopal Church and Transfiguration Baptist Church.
As members of the Baptist World Alliance, he and his wife traveled to many countries in Europe, South America and Asia. They also traveled extensively with the Angels of Harmony of Eastern University.
Wilbert was an active member of the Rho Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, the former Pro Arts Society and the West Philadelphia High School Alumni Association.
He was a lifelong Dodgers fan.
Besides his wife, he is survived by two sons, Wilbert R. McCabe II and Patrick McGee; two daughters, Tracy McGee and Bethany McCabe; two sisters, Sharon Baukman and Jessica Bivins; and nine grandchildren.