Tiny Desk

Bernie And The Believers Feat. Essence

The story of Bernie and the Believers is the most powerful I've ever come across at the Tiny Desk. It's about a beautiful act of compassion that ultimately led to this performance, and left me and my coworkers in tears.

I discovered the music of Bernie Dalton among the thousands of Tiny Desk Contest entries we received earlier this year. The band's singer, Essence Goldman, had submitted the entry and shared Bernie's story. You should hear her tell it in her own words at the Tiny Desk (and I choke up every time I hear it). In summary she said that a few years ago, Bernie — a father, a songwriter and a musician in his mid-forties, and an avid surfer with a day job as a pool cleaner — answered an ad she had posted offering voice lessons. Essence was a performer trying to manage her own career as a single mom, and Bernie was trying to improve his talents.

Bernie drove 90-minutes from Santa Cruz to San Francisco, eagerly showing up early to his voice lessons with Essence. But not long after they started working together, Bernie lost his voice. They didn't think much of a it at first, but then things got worse. He had trouble swallowing and eating. Essence encouraged Bernie to see a doctor and after some tests Bernie Dalton was diagnosed with bulbar-onset ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease. He began to lose the use of his hands and, along with it, the ability to play guitar.

With a prognosis of only one-to-three years left to live, Essence offered to raise money so that Bernie and his daughter could travel together. But what Bernie wanted more than anything was to make a record. So he asked Essence to not just be his voice teacher, but his voice. From there, they got to business. Essence pulled together a team of producers, engineers and musicians, while Bernie guided the creative direction through gestures and a dry-erase board. They wrote and recorded a new song every day. Their first single, "Unusual Boy," was the one they included in their 2018 Tiny Desk Contest entry.

Now Bernie's friends have gathered here in Washington, D.C. to perform his 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 his eye-gaze device. What you are about to witness is the ultimate act of love: Essence sacrificing her own musical ambitions to fulfill the dreams of Bernie Dalton. Through tragedy there was beauty.

Set List

  • "Unusual Boy"
  • "In Your Shoes"
  • "Simon's Hero"

Credits

Producers: Bob Boilen, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Kaylee Domzalski, Beck Harlan; Editor: Production Assistant: Brie Martin; Photo: Cameron Pollack/NPR

[+] read more[-] less

Half Waif performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Oct. 17, 2018 (Cameron Pollack/NPR). Cameron Pollack/NPR/Cameron Pollack/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Cameron Pollack/NPR/Cameron Pollack/NPR

Half Waif

The band's songs, stripped here to their essence, are particularly peaceful and calm — and sometimes chilling.

Pedro the Lion performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Sept. 13, 2018 (Claire harbage/NPR). Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Pedro The Lion

No matter how dark or disastrous, there's always been an undercurrent of grace to the music of David Bazan. He returns to his Pedro the Lion moniker for this memorable Tiny Desk performance.

The Nicholas Payton Trio performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Oct. 10, 2018. (Cameron Pollack/NPR) Cameron Pollack/NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Cameron Pollack/NPR/NPR

Nicholas Payton Trio

After back-to-back performances in South Africa, Argentina, Chile and New York, Payton hit the Tiny Desk, where he dazzled the audience, simultaneously playing his trumpet and a Fender Rhodes.

Linker E Os Caramelows perform a Tiny Desk Concert on Sept. 10, 2018. Emily Bogle/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Emily Bogle/NPR

Liniker e os Caramelows

Liniker e os Caramelows are from Brazil but steeped in the tradition of soul from here in the U.S. Watching this performance is to witness a spell being cast, note-by-note.

Jim James performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Oct. 5, 2018 (Madeleine Cook/NPR). Madeleine Cook/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Madeleine Cook/NPR

Jim James

A single voice can send a powerful message - and that's just what Jim James did at the Tiny Desk, with just his voice and an acoustic guitar.

Cautious Clay performs at a Tiny Desk Concert on Sept. 17. (Emily Bogle/NPR) Emily Bogle/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Emily Bogle/NPR

Cautious Clay

The charismatic singer and saxophonist brought a group of longtime friends to play a warm, thoughtful and chill set at the Tiny Desk.

Chromeo performs a Tiny Desk Concert on September 26, 2018. (Cameron Pollack/NPR) Cameron Pollack/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Cameron Pollack/NPR

Chromeo

The self-proclaimed "Funklordz" normally perform as a duo, but played with a live band for the first time at the Tiny Desk.

The Alfredo Rodriguez Trio performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Sept. 18, 2018 (Cameron Pollack/NPR). Cameron Pollack/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Cameron Pollack/NPR

Alfredo Rodríguez

The Cuban pianist thrilled the NPR office with an intense performance that was as melodic as it was rhythmic.

Florence + The Machine performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Oct. 6, 2018 (Heather Kim/NPR). Heather Kim/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Heather Kim/NPR

Florence + the Machine

"I'm sorry I'm shy," Florence Welch told the crowd of NPR family and friends gathered for her Tiny Desk performance. "If this was a big gig, I'd probably be climbing all over here and running around."

Café Tacvba perfroms a Tiny Desk Concert on September 24, 2018. (Cameron Pollack/NPR) Cameron Pollack/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Cameron Pollack/NPR

Café Tacvba

The pioneering Mexican band recreates the adventurous musical energy of their massive stadium shows behind Bob Boilen's desk.

Back To Top