Carolyn Harden has done a lot of things in her 73 years, achieving success in music and business.
In June, she added to that success a sash and a crown, winning the title of Ms. New Jersey Senior America.
Harden will be back on stage at Resorts Casino Hotel next week, competing with women from across the United States, all accomplished, talented and over the age of 60, in the Ms. Senior America pageant.
“I saw the wonderful work the Cameo Club was doing when they performed at several senior events in the area," Harden said Monday morning. "I wanted to be a part of this great organization and knew the only way to do that was to compete in the Ms. Senior New Jersey Pageant.”
Cameo Club members perform across the state. All of the women have competed at one time for the title of Ms. New Jersey Senior America.
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“I think a lot of people do not look beyond the word ‘pageant’ to really understand what the Ms. New Jersey Senior America and Ms. Senior America is all about,” said Harden. “They think it is a beauty competition. Women who have reached the age of elegance, of being over 60, have so much to offer. This competition showcases their inner beauty. Seniors are the foundation of our communities, and when we have the opportunity to perform at an event, whether it is a hospital or a care facility, we can brighten someone’s day or show by example the almost limitless possibilities that are there for older citizens.”
For her talent, Harden decided to stick with the song that won her the title in June: “For Once in My Life,” written in 1966 for Motown but later made famous by Stevie Wonder and Tony Bennett.
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Harden earned her musical chops singing alongside Dionne Warwick, Dee Dee Warwick and Cissy Houston in the gospel group the Gospelaires. She was part of a sessions singing team for Burt Bacharach and Hal David and released several singles on the Domino record label. Early in her career, Harden appeared on "American Bandstand" and at the Apollo Theater in New York City.
But life got busy with family, and she moved from the music scene to the academic scene, earning a degree in finance from Kean University and spending the next big slice of her life in higher education and the private sector. Harden said she was an admissions director at Seton Hall, spending more than 20 years with the university.
It’s tough to tell which graduate of Century High School in Bismarck, North Dakota, delivered the best performance Sunday.
When she retired, Harden returned to her firm OfficeXperts and continued to mentor young people to increase their financial competency. It began as a family organization for those who wanted their kids to learn how to save and moved on from there. She said it gives her a great deal of satisfaction to help young people understand how to save and why they need to save.
“Some of the youngest kids I worked with are now entering college, and they appreciate those lessons and are using that money they saved to help pay for college. That is very rewarding to me,” she said.
At the same time, she was mentoring aspiring musicians and singers. She later helped establish the performing arts club at the Renaissance over-55 community in Manchester Township, Ocean County, where she remains active as a singer and actress.
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When Harden heads to the stage next week with her eyes focused on winning, she will have a lot of friends in the audience.
“My friends from the Renaissance community in Manchester are coming to support me. At least 100 strong will always be making the trip to Atlantic City to hear me perform,” Harden said.
And just to make sure the rest of the crowd in Resorts' Superstar Theater know whom they are rooting for, Harden’s crew will have glow sticks to wave when their favorite woman steps on stage.