Music: more than a hobby

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 19, 2007

WINTON – Music is just a hobby for some people but for Dolores Collins Benjamin, it was much more.

A recent book by Barbara J. Kukla, “Sounds of Music: The Delores Benjamin Story,” tells all about Benjamin’s life and her love of music.

“Every aspect of Dolores Benjamin’s life story is compelling,” Kukla said.

“Not only does it include the history of the glee club, which is still going strong after 68 years, it traces her interactions with some of the most fascinating people of her era, including family members.”

In 1939, in New Jersey at the age of 26, Benjamin created and founded the New Jersey Philharmonic Glee Club, an all- male ensemble.

The club is now New Jersey’s oldest African American Cultural organization.

Benjamin first got the idea for forming the singing group when she attended a concert led by Dr. William Cameron White at the Mosque Theatre.

The group memorized all of their songs and they eventually built up a collection of 158.

The club’s first professional performance was at a church.

Benjamin grew up in Berkley, Va. and moved to Newark N.J. when she was an adult.

Her parents, Martin Luther Collins and Mamie Dulcie Reynolds, were from Winton, the seat of Hertford County.

Both sets of Benjamin’s grandparents lived in Winton and she spent summers there with them.

According to Kukla’s book, Benjamin enjoyed the times in Winton that she was able to spend with her family, especially her cousin Claytae.

The book also mentioned that Benjamin and her family enjoyed going to Chowan Beach, a 400 acre resort for African Americans on the outskirts of Winton.

The beach had a dining hall, vacation cottages and a carousel for vacationers.

Not only did Benjamin have family ties in Winton, but she had them in Ahoskie as well.

Her uncle Broade founded the Reynolds Funeral Home in 1926.

Benjamin was a skilled pianist who attended Virginia State College.

She studied under two famous educators there: Luther P. Jackson and Undine Smith Moore.

Jackson was a key figure in the early civil rights movement and Moore is cited as one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century.

Moore was the creator of “Scenes from the Life of a Martyr,” which was a 16 part oratorio on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It premiered at Carnegie Hall in New York and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

After three years at Virginia State, Benjamin then moved to Newark in the mid 1930s and took classes at Dana College and worked at an umbrella shop.

While in Newark, she joined a singing group, the Orange Majestic Singers.

Benjamin dated the leader of the group, Albert Tillery, and eventually they married.

However, their marriage didn’t last long and the couple divorced four years later.

After attending Dana College, Benjamin went to Seton Hall University and received her certification to teach children with special needs.

She taught at the Hamilton School in East Orange, N.J. for 25 years.

In 1952 Benjamin had to give up directing the glee club because of the demands of her work as a special education teacher.

In 1967, she married jazz bassist Joe Benjamin.

In 2004, the Philharmonics performed “The Sounds of Broadway” for their 65th anniversary event.

“I am glad I had the idea (to form the club), but I never thought it would last this long,” said Benjamin.

“In the beginning it was just a group of young people, barely out of their teens, getting together because they loved to sing.

But it has become much more- a source of pride to the members and their families and an inspiration to their audiences and to the community.”

Benjamin, now 94, resides at the Ashbrook Nursing Home in Scotch Plains, N.J.

On January 18, 2007, 25 of the current glee club members gathered to celebrate her birthday.