JAY — Every Friday night for the past 15 years, Arthur “Benny” Benedetto has played bass in the VFW open mic house band.

The show starts at 6 p.m.

Sometime during the night, he’ll take to the microphone and switch over to guitar to sing a song or two, such as “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” or “It Had to Be You.”

The evening wraps up when the crowd feels like calling it a night.

“They’re all senior citizens,” Benedetto said. “They can’t stay up too late.”

Never mind that he’s got most of them beat by a decade or more. 

Benedetto is a still-bass-playing, still-crooning 98.

He walks 2 miles a day in good weather. He shovels his driveway; he drives. And he doesn’t dwell on age a heck of a lot.

“Thank God, everything’s good,” he said.

Benedetto has lived in the same Jay neighborhood his entire life. His parents emigrated from Italy.

“(My father) didn’t write or read or talk English; he got by in the mill,” Benedetto said. “They heard things were better in the United States than Italy; a whole boatload came over at one time. The whole boat settled in Massachusetts and Maine.”

Benedetto was one of 10 kids. His parents encouraged his music early.

Around fourth grade, “My father says, ‘If we buy you a violin, will you play it? Will you study and do what you’re supposed to do with it?’ Money was tight — I think then a violin cost $30,” he said. “My brother and I both wanted to carry it to school to show the kids. The music teacher told my folks that my brother had no ear for music. He’s just wasting time; he’ll never learn to play.”

Benedetto, though, had talent. By fifth grade, the music teacher invited him to play with the Jay High School band.

Years later, at 20, music was how he’d meet his future wife, Irene, while playing at a dance.

“I noticed this lovely person, but I couldn’t dance and she was a very good dancer,” Benedetto said. “During intermission, I asked her, ‘When the music starts again, would you teach me a few steps?’ And, ‘Sure.’ So, that’s how that went. A wonderful, wonderful life with her.”

He was drafted into the U.S. Army in February 1942. They married in 1947, after he’d survived and made it back. The couple had two boys and all the while, he fronted Benny’s Band, playing big band music with friends.

After working at International Paper for 40 years, Benny and Irene retired to wintering in Florida, where another Benny’s Band quickly formed. One retiree played clarinet and sax, still another trombone, until they were up to a seven-piece band.

“(We) played everywhere: Disney, all the hotels and motels and restaurants,” Benedetto said. “A lot of good times with that music.”

Today, he plays regularly with a keyboardist and singer at nursing homes. It’s nice to see residents — again, most younger than him — tapping along, he said.

Then, come Friday night, Benedetto’s back at the VFW.

“As long as I’m able, I’m going to keep going. It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “There’s so many nice people, everybody’s so good to me, and I enjoy playing and singing, although you don’t get too many turns” — sometimes that open mic sheet fills up fast.

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Arthur “Benny” Benedetto plays bass guitar in the VFW open mic house band on Friday night in Jay.

Arthur “Benny” Benedetto takes the microphone as a member of the VFW open mic house band in Jay on Friday night.

Arthur “Benny” Benedetto and his late wife, Irene, in their 20s. He spotted her while he was playing violin at a dance. She was an amazing dancer, so he said he figured he didn’t have a chance with her. The couple were married for more than 50 years.

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