Bernie Dalton was a musician with aspirations of having his songwriting heard – and now, despite his medical condition, he finally has.
Several years ago, Bernie began his musical journey by answering a Craigslist ad for voice lessons that was posted by California singer-songwriter Essence Goldman.
Dalton was so excited for his lessons, he showed up early for every session, despite the 90-minute drive from Santa Cruz to San Francisco.
Soon after starting his work with Ms. Goldman, Dalton lost his voice and experienced difficulty eating and swallowing. Upon seeing a doctor, Dalton was diagnosed with early-onset ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Despite his prognosis and the loss of motor function and vocal abilities, he would not defer his dream; Dalton was determined to have his music heard. His teacher began accepting his lyrics by mail, and he continued to book time with her to work on songs.
After months of collaboration, Ms. Goldman eventually became the voice to the voiceless Bernie Dalton, who uses his music to express feelings about his daughter, and his unique world view. She describes it as “the honor of her life.”
Goldman now performs Dalton’s songs alongside a musical group called Bernie and the Believers. They submitted a song to NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Contest in hopes of winning the national competition. They did not win the competition – but the contest producers were so moved by their story, they invited them into the studio for a performance.
“The story of Bernie and the Believers is the most powerful story that has ever crossed my Tiny Desk,” says producer Bob Boilen. “It’s one that stayed with our team since we received the entry in March of 2018. We knew we had to bring them in for their own Tiny Desk concert.”
“Last month, Essence and her band of Believers came to Washington, D.C. to perform Bernie’s songs. All the while, Bernie watched and listened from his hospital bed on the West coast, communicating with us in a live video feed through the eye-gaze device he uses to speak.”
“Watching the performance itself was intense. I felt profoundly moved by Bernie and Essence’s stories and songs… When it was over, everyone around me was wiping their eyes. What we witnessed was an ultimate act of love: Essence had sacrificed her own musical ambitions to fulfill the dreams of Bernie Dalton. Through tragedy, there was beauty.”
(WATCH the emotional performance below) – Photo by Bob Boilen / NPR
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