By Gianna Barberia, news correspondent
Sitting upright and confident, the student beamed with enthusiasm and excitement, her smile infectious. Julia Benson, a senior linguistics and psychology dual major, will sing the national anthem during the Beanpot tournament at TD Garden on Feb. 6, an annual hockey tradition that features four prominent Boston schools: Harvard University, Boston University, Boston College and Northeastern University.
“I am stoked,” Benson said. “I’m a huge Bruins fan. I know I’m not singing at a Bruins game, but it’s literally a dream of mine to sing at the Garden. I’m sure that the nerves will come later.”
Benson has been performing since the fourth grade, when she began singing in a choir. She started vocal training her freshman year of high school. She said singing is what helped her break out of her shell and exude the confidence she wears proudly today.
“I was super shy,” Benson said. “All of my teachers could never hear me in class. Then, fifth grade happened and I was cast as a spoon in ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ I still was pretty shy, but throughout middle school and high school, I became much more adept at performance.”
During her sophomore year of college, Benson auditioned to sing the national anthem for sporting events at Northeastern. Ever since then, she has been on a rotating list of performers, singing at almost every kind of sporting event.
“I never really sang at a bunch of men’s hockey games, so this is kind of going from pretty small gigs to a huge one,” Benson said. “They gave me a call and said ‘Hey, how would you like to sing at the Beanpot at the Garden?’ and I was like ‘Yeah!’”
Benson has been involved with performance clubs and groups on Northeastern’s campus. Since her freshman year, she has been an active member of NU Stage, Northeastern’s student-run musical theatre company, where she has helped with performing, directing, music directing, choreographing and serving on the executive board. Benson has also been a member of Silver Masque, another student-sponsored theatre group, since her freshman year, and Distilled Harmony: a co-ed student a capella group for two years.
“Theatre has always been a huge part of my life,” Benson said. “I feel like it’s a wonderful way of connecting people both within the show and outside of the show and sending messages.”
Benson cites her aunt as her main performance inspiration; she performed on Broadway in “Cats” and the original cast of “Les Miserable.” However, she said her aunt is also the reason she decided not to pursue theatre professionally because she witnessed firsthand the lack of job stability that comes with it.
“I don’t have any career goals with performing,” Benson said. “But basically I decided that I have to be involved in theatre in some capacity when I graduate, whether it’s being on the board of a community theatre rather than performing.”
Benson is a classically trained soprano who taught herself how to belt early in her college career through NU Stage.
“My first show [with NU Stage], my music director thought I was an alto and that wasn’t remotely true,” she said.
Although Benson sang a song that was supposedly not within her vocal range, Matthew Kimball, a graduate student pursuing a doctorate degree in physical therapy, looked back at this particular performance as his favorite memory of her.
Kimball, who has performed alongside Benson through NU Stage and Distilled Harmony, recalled a rehearsal for NU Stage’s 2013 spring musical revue during which the director chose to have Benson perform her number for the cast. She sang “Every Story is a Love Story” from “Aida.”
“Here was this freshman girl, I thought, brand new to the group and standing just 5 feet away, blowing us all away with not only her talent, but with her confidence” Kimball said. “I distinctly remember jaws dropping across the room, including my own. They say in theatre that a bad rehearsal means a good show. But with Julia, it’s more like this: Good rehearsal, brilliant show.”
Michaela Anang, a Northeastern alumnus who graduated in December, met Benson their freshman year. They have been close friends now for almost five years.
“I try to go to every performance that Julia is in,” Anang said. “I’m usually in tears within the first few moments she steps on stage. She puts her whole self into a role, whether it’s acting or dancing or singing, and that is incredible to watch. She is so focused and dedicated, she has this electric energy when she performs. And boy can she belt notes. It’s so powerful.”
Although friends consider Benson’s performances to be powerful, her activism has also been an influential force. Last year, Benson directed a NU Stage show titled “Rebels, Revolutionaries and Radicals” that showcased songs relating to topics such as feminism and transgender rights.
“[It] was basically a bunch of songs about taking stand for things in whatever way necessary,” Benson said.
She considers herself an intersectional feminist, LGBTQA+ rights supporter and environmental activist. Benson said she learned a great deal about feminism and other social issues she is passionate about from her classmates at Northeastern.
“I honestly am inspired by my peers a lot more than by any specific person,” Benson said. “I think that every person I’ve met, I’ve learned something from. I’ve learned how to better myself as a person and also what I shouldn’t do as a person.”
Benson aspires to be a speech therapist. Her dream is to work with vocalists and others who use their voice professionally to combine her love of singing with her love of helping others. After graduating, Benson will work full-time at Baroo, a startup company that provides pet care for luxury apartment complexes throughout Boston. Benson currently works at Baroo part-time doing customer care, on top of her many extracurriculars.
“Over the course of our college careers, I have always been amazed by how involved Julia is, whether it’s with NU Stage, the theatre department, classes, tutoring, her part-time jobs or everything else she does,” Kimball said. “She is constantly challenging herself and looking for new experiences, so I joke that if I outlive her, I would make it my mission to have her epitaph read, ‘But wait, there’s more!’ The world could use a little more Julia.”
Photo courtesy Julia Benson