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Carolyn Brown-Benson

Carolyn Brown-Benson recently recorded "Forever in My Heart," a song dedicated to military members and their loved ones. Photo by Christina Bohn

A local singer plans to give back to those who have served through the gift of music.

Carolyn Brown-Benson, known in the Three Village area for her Linda Ronstadt cover band Blue Bayou, recently recorded a single called “Forever in My Heart.” The song, written by Gray Devio and Jack Ruby, tells the story of a deployed military person and a loved one writing to each other.

The single is slated to be released by Bigger Bang Media May 19, Armed Forces Day, and will premiere on Armed Forces Radio on Memorial Day. A music video will follow July 4. Brown-Benson said she’s excited about its release and raising funds to aid a nonprofit that assists veterans or military members with proceeds.

“If they have somebody that they are missing terribly, whether they are here or passed, that it will give them a memory or a glimpse or make them feel like that person is right next to them.”

— Carolyn Brown-Benson

While the 52-year-old singer from East Setauket said she will continue working with Blue Bayou, she wanted to record music as a soloist for the first time in a way that could make a difference.

“A big part at this stage in life, you go, ‘Well I need a career,’ but it’s also, ‘How can I be of service?’” she said. “How can I use my voice?”

Brown-Benson said she knew she wanted to sing “Forever in My Heart” the moment she heard it at Devio’s studio. She had met Devio more than a year ago when a mutual friend connected them after she confided that she wanted to sing outside of her cover band.

“Forever in My Heart” originally was written to be a country song, according to Devio, but he said the singer’s pop sound takes it to another level. He believes the song will reach a broader demographic than if they were to release it as a country single.

“It’s a wonderful thing that Carolyn is singing it,” Devio said. “She has such a beautiful and legit voice.”

The songwriter-producer said he and co-lyricist Ruby were in Nashville, shopping their music to label executives when they wrote the song. Devio said when they composed the ballad, the two were overwhelmed with emotions with being separated from their wives and nervous about a meeting.

“We felt sort of like soldiers on a battlefield away from the ones that we love,” Devio said.

While originally written to depict a military member who is missing family back home, Brown-Benson’s sings it from a loved one’s perspective. Devio said in the middle of the song there is the idea of heaven, and he said he hopes the affirmation of faith gives comfort to those serving the country and the people in their lives.

“The idea of the song is to remind the people who are at home and missing their loved ones, who are serving our country to fight for the freedoms we have every day, to remind them that no matter what happens, that they’ll be forever in their hearts and that everything will be ok,” Devio said.

Brown-Benson said she also hopes the song will bring comfort to those who listen to it.

“It’s a wonderful thing that Carolyn is singing it. She has such a beautiful and legit voice.”

— Gray Devio

“If they have somebody that they are missing terribly, whether they are here or passed, that it will give them a memory or a glimpse or make them feel like that person is right next to them,” the singer said. “And to remember that they’re not that far away, even distance or death, there always right there next to you.”

Brown-Benson said she hopes once the song premieres Memorial Day on the syndicated Armed Forces Radio, which broadcasts to service members around the world, that other radio stations across the country will pick it up. She also hopes it will inspire civilians to see what they can do to help current and former military personnel. As the daughter of an ex-Marine, who served during the Korean War, she is familiar with the sacrifices of armed forces members. “These people protect [our] rights every day and leave families and jobs behind,” she said.

Brown-Benson said she is still searching for an organization to donate to and has found that several nonprofits need help. She has received suggestions of organizations that build homes for vets and those who provide canine companions, to those that fly military members home, but is open to more ideas.

The importance of helping former and current military members is something Joe Cognitore, Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 commander, knows well. He and his post have raised funds for many vets, including helping to build them homes. He said he is touched when he hears about endeavors like those of Brown-Benson and Devio.

“As a vet it makes me feel elated, because they don’t have to do that,” he said, adding he knows other vets feel the same.

When it comes to creating the video for the single, the singer needs others’ help in another way. Brown-Benson wants to incorporate photos of service men and women with their families in the video. The singer said she is also thinking of adding letters sent during deployment from contributors to the video.

For more info about “Forever in My Heart” or submitting photos for the upcoming video, visit www.carolynbensonofficial.com.

Post updated May 2 to include a quote from Joe Cognitore.

Carolyn Brown-Benson transforms from hotel employee to pop icon Linda Ronstadt. Photo by Christina Bohn

By Rita J. Egan 

Carolyn Brown-Benson has discovered that even though dreams can sometimes be delayed, they can’t be ignored.

The 51-year-old East Setauket resident always wanted to perform, and put that dream on hold more than 20 years ago. Now, she finds herself donning a brunette wig and transforming into pop singer Linda Ronstadt to front the tribute band Blue Bayou. Performing with the group she founded two years ago, Brown-Benson delivers the iconic hits of the singer who is known for “You’re No Good,” “It’s So Easy” and “Somewhere Out There.”

The sales associate at Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook said her entertainment dreams took a detour when she married her husband James in 1996 and soon after had her two children James, now 15, and Shannon, now 18.

When her son and daughter were younger she tried to return to the stage. She sang at the Performing Arts Studio in Port Jefferson and appeared in shows at Stony Brook’s Educational & Cultural Center as the iconic singer Ethel Merman, and as the legendary actress Mae West at Mount Sinai’s Heritage Center.

When she landed a role with the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” she realized she couldn’t pursue performing full time while raising her children.

“I was getting an itch [to perform], and I needed to, but I needed to be a mom first,” she said.

While performing at local restaurants Bliss and Mario’s, Brown-Benson realized she had a knack for singing Ronstadt’s hits, and that the crowds seemed to agree.

“I noticed that people would always — when I was singing “You’re No Good” or “Hurt So Bad” — especially the women, they would always turn around,” she said. “You could just see they really recognized those songs.”

Brown-Benson said starting a tribute band seemed to better suit her schedule as a mother. She reached out to contacts on Facebook and assembled a band, currently Linda Cusumano, keyboards; Don Waller, guitar; Jon Pell, bass; and Mark Pohl or Eugene Henriksen, drums.

“My husband is thinking about retiring, and I’m just gearing up,” she said. “And it shows my children, too, that no matter how crazy you think your dreams are, it’s really a calling.”

Denean Lane, general manager of Holiday Inn Express, has witnessed Brown-Benson, who performs at the hotel, in action.

“She has a very good energy about her and just a very feel-good mood with her range of emotion,” Lane said. “She’s really fantastic.”

She added that the performer’s presence at the hotel, be it in front of the microphone or at her desk, is an asset to the business.

“She’s well known throughout the community, and she’s really gifted and talented,” Lane said.

In November, the local singer met Ronstadt during “A Conversation with Linda Ronstadt,” at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Long Island University.

“It was surreal sitting in the audience,” she said. “All of a sudden, I’m sitting three rows from her and I’m going to meet her.”

Brown-Benson forgot everything she was going to say to Ronstadt during their brief meeting, but was able to tell her about the tribute band. Ronstadt, who has Parkinson’s disease, said, “I really wish I could sing with you.”

The local singer has future hopes to record original music and perform under her own name. For now, she hopes to at least be an inspiration to those thinking of chasing their dreams.

“You can feel what direction you should be going — you need to listen to it,” she said. “You get up off your knees when you are sort of praying for direction, and you keep going. Every time those doors close and you think it’s the end, it’s really not. There’s something else open for you. And when you start paying attention to those signs, you’ll be amazed at what comes along.”

Blue Bayou will hit the stage Aug. 1 at 6 p.m. at JFK Middle School in Port Jefferson Station, as part of the Port Jefferson Station-Terryville Summer Concert Series. For more information about Brown-Benson and her tribute band, visit www.bluebayoutributeband.com.