Tiny Desk Contest Contestant Bernie Dalton Dies After Battling ALS : All Songs Considered The musician won our hearts with his deeply moving 2018 Tiny Desk contest entry as Bernie and The Believers. He'd been fighting bulbar-onset ALS, an aggressive form of Lou Gehrig's disease.
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Tiny Desk Contest Contestant Bernie Dalton Dies After Battling ALS

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Tiny Desk Contest Contestant Bernie Dalton Dies After Battling ALS

Tiny Desk Contest Contestant Bernie Dalton Dies After Battling ALS

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/720988651/721860616" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

We first heard Bernie Dalton last spring.

BERNIE DALTON: My name is Bernie Dalton. My lifelong dream was to record an album. A year ago, I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of ALS. It was time to get my butt in gear. I could no longer speak or sing, so I asked my singing teacher, Essence, to become my voice. A thousand friends contributed.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

That was the start of his entry in NPR Music's annual Tiny Desk Contest. He didn't win, but we still wanted to tell his story.

CHANG: At the time of his diagnosis, Bernie Dalton was a 40-something single dad living in Santa Cruz, Calif. His day job was cleaning pools, but his passion was songwriting. And as you just heard, his dream was to make an album.

SHAPIRO: In 2016, he had barely started singing lessons before he lost his voice. Soon after that, Dalton had difficulty swallowing, and then he started losing weight. That's when he discovered he had bulbar-onset ALS, an aggressive form of ALS.

CHANG: Still, Bernie Dalton had an album to make. He asked his singing teacher Essence Goldman, a working musician herself, to be his voice.

ESSENCE GOLDMAN: And at first, I said no. I didn't know how to do that. I'd never done anything like that. He wanted me to put melody and music to his words.

SHAPIRO: Bernie kept asking until no became yes. Together with the rest of her bandmates, they formed Bernie and the Believers. They raised money through donations for studio time and within a few months, they put out the album "Connection," made entirely of songs written by Bernie Dalton.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERNIE AND THE BELIEVERS: (Singing) And only an unusual boy could know and understand me.

CHANG: By that time, Bernie was bedridden and eventually could only move his eyes. Nonetheless, Bernie and the Believers toured from the East Coast to Alaska, singing his songs. Last fall, the band performed at NPR's Tiny Desk. Bernie was watching via Skype.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERNIE AND THE BELIEVERS: (Singing) You know that hardship is endured for a reason. You need to know it lasts so long so that we never, ever, ever, ever forget. Know...

SHAPIRO: Bernie Dalton died last week in his hospital room surrounded by loved ones. He was 49. His teacher, singing voice and friend Essence Goldman says a feature movie about his story is in the works. Whether or not that happens, Goldman says, Bernie Dalton's message is already out there.

GOLDMAN: (Reading) Know every situation, all probable outcomes hold love at the center of it all, hold love at the center of it all, hold love at the center of it all and you can never go wrong.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERNIE AND THE BELIEVERS: (Singing) Never, never, never, never, never be wrong. My contrived echoes all lifted...

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