Carolyn Benson’s voice cracks a little when she talks about her music.
Tangled up in youthful aspirations to sing and a patriotic pride inspired by her father, a Korean War veteran, Benson is on a mission to bring her new show, Anthem, to active soldiers and veterans across the country.
But first she has to raise a little money to take her show on the road.
returning to a passion
The Setauket resident says she always had a passion to perform.
It started when she was in grade school in musical theater, and she went on to attend the Shenandoah Conservatory of Music in Virginia.
As happens to the best of us, life got in the way of her dreams.
Benson married and had two children. Her family became her focus, but she never lost her childhood love of music and theatrics.
As her children got older she felt the itch again. She began by taking voice lessons at the Performing Arts Studio in Port Jefferson with Deborah Livering, one of the school’s directors.
That led her back to the stage.
“Because of her I started going after theater again,” Benson said.
She did some musical theater on Long Island and sang locally at Graceful Rose in Port Jefferson, Amici’s in Mount Sinai, and Mario’s in East Setauket.
“I started singing at restaurants just to get my chops back,” Benson said
She also began a Linda Ronstadt tribute band called “Blue Bayou” and played a part in the “Holly Jolly Christmas Show” during the annual Dickens Festival in Port Jefferson.
The experience of working with her bandmates helped her grow.
“I was learning a lot about musicians and myself and being a leader,” Benson said.
It was as good a beginning as any. She had started to make a name for herself but Benson still felt she had more to give.
“I asked how do I give back?” she said. “I’ve always felt that way.”
all about the troops
By chance, Benson made a connection with Gray Devio, a songwriter and the person who gave Benson her signature song.
“We did five songs including a remake of ‘Hallelujah’ by Leonard Cohen,” she said. “He was helping me to find my sound.”
Devio eventually let her take a look at some his songs, and one jumped out at them as perfect for her. It was called “Forever in my Heart.”
“He said, ‘I’m thinking military,’ and I said, ‘I’m thinking military too,” she said.
“It’s a letter, if you will, written by someone who is far away from their family that says no matter whatever happens you will always be in heart.”
They made a music video and Benson began performing the song.
“I know this song will take off,” she said. “It’s such a beautiful song.”
They also created an entire show called Anthem, performing patriotic songs of both covers and originals, including “Forever in my Heart” on the setlist.
Benson describes Anthem as a “rocking, patriotic salute to America” covering such disparate musicians as Bob Seger and Neil Diamond with patriotism as the overarching theme.
“It lifts you up and makes you want to dance,” she said.
Anthem has already been given a test drive on the road – or actually the water.
“I did a night out of Boston to Portland on American Cruise Line,” she said.
Half the ship patrons came out to see her perform that night.
One by one, Benson is trying to book shows at Veterans homes and military bases. Without a big sponsor though it’s a tough slog, trying to line up the gigs and then raise the money to pay to take the show on the road.
All along, she hasn’t forgotten her inspiration.
“My dad was a Marine,” she said. “I grew up with a love of country and patriotism.”
Recently, Benson performed at the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook.
“A man sitting in front of me was wearing a Korean War hat. I started singing ‘God Bless America’ he started crying and tried to stand up out of his wheelchair,” she said with a lump in her throat.
“These are the people I am trying to get to.”
Her next show is planned for July 10th at Fort Belvoir in Virginia.
Along the way, Benson has gotten support locally and from one surprising figure in Country Music.
Benson opens the show Anthem with the Charlie Daniels Band version of Johnny Cash’s song “Ragged Old Flag.” She reached out to the Charlie Daniels Band’s manager, David Corlew, on Twitter to get original footage of the video for the song to play during her show. He responded asking Benson to call him.
She got the footage.
Now, with the show and her original song to promote, Benson is working harder than ever to make both of them a success — years after college.
“I call it my Part 2 in life,” she said. I’m creating the career that I left behind.”
An afternoon with The Psychic Sisters — a fundraiser to help fund Carolyn Benson’s show at Fort Belvoir in Virginia — will be held June 2 at the Rocky Point VFW Hall. You can purchase tickets here. You can also get more details about Anthem and Carolyn Benson on her website and her Facebook page.