Send Bernie Home: A Letter by Essence

Essence Goldman, a singer-songwriter from San Francisco, started giving Bernie Dalton vocal lessons two years ago. Since then, Bernie has been diagnosed with the most aggressive form of ALS and likely only has months to live. Essence is helping Bernie fulfill his one dying wish: making an album as his legacy and gift to his daughter Nicole. The band, made up of Bernie, Essence, Roger Rocha, Daniel Berkman, David Simon-Baker, and Nicole, just released the music video for the song 'In Your Shoes.' The full album will be released February 9th. Read Essence's full letter on Bernie's story and watch the music video below. You can give money towards Bernie's home care on Go Fund Me by clicking the 'Donate' button.

Bernie and his daughter Nicole

Bernie and his daughter Nicole

My name is Essence Goldman and I am a singer-songwriter and vocal coach from San Francisco. I want to tell you about a project that has changed my life. The story is not mine. It's my student Bernie Dalton's story, and it is my privilege and honor to be part of it. Bernie was a surfer. He started each day by waking up at 4am and watching the sunrise on a surfboard in the Pacific. He was a competitive wrestler in high school. He was strong. He was healthy. He was down to earth. Bernie lived for the moment. He lived for his beautiful 14-year-old daughter Nicole. He was a single father and loved Nicole more than life itself. Bernie had always dreamed of playing guitar, writing songs and singing them. In January 2016 he decided to take his passion to the next level and began taking voice lessons with me. Two months later, at 46 years old, Bernie’s voice mysteriously disappeared. 

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At first, there was little concern, but a set of more mysterious symptoms gradually presented themselves. Bernie was having trouble swallowing and moving his jaw. Bernie made his living cleaning swimming pools and thought these symptoms were due to his exposure to chlorine. After detox treatments with a naturopath physician, Bernie's symptoms only worsened. He was drooling uncontrollably and losing weight. In April 2017, Bernie was given a terminal diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease.)

Essence, Nicole, Bernie, and Roger Rocha (left to right) in the hospital

Essence, Nicole, Bernie, and Roger Rocha (left to right) in the hospital

To make things worse, he was diagnosed with the most aggressive form; Bulbar Onset ALS. The news was devastating. I asked Bernie how he wanted to spend his remaining days. I offered to help Bernie raise funds to take a once in a lifetime trip with his daughter Nicole, but he did not want that. He wanted to make an album with his songs. Now unable to use his vocal chords, Bernie asked me to be his voice. I sang the words he wrote and helped form the melody around his lyrics. His daughter sang the harmonies on the album. No one had ever asked anything like this of me before. I was in shock and I could not say no. 

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Bernie wrote lyrics that expressed his views of the world. He wanted to be remembered for his beliefs on love, honesty, and the enduring power of the human spirit against hardship. He also wrote lyrics for his future grandchildren who he will likely not live long enough to meet. We sat in my living room and the song spilled out in one sitting. This was the first song on what became the ten track album Connection. I launched a Go Fund Me campaign and with the generous contributions (both public and private) from friends, family, and community worldwide, we raised over $25,000. Those donations paid for the studio time over the past six months and made Bernie's record possible.

I called my close musician friends Roger Rocha, Daniel Berkman, and David Simon-Baker to help make this record. Bernie had a vision and everyone worked to bring it to life. Bernie directed the band by writing on a dry erase board. He couldn’t talk. He couldn’t sing. He couldn’t play guitar. But he had a story to tell and gave us guidance. If Bernie liked something it was two thumbs up - and if he didn’t like it - everyone knew. And let me tell you, two thumbs up from someone who can't speak means a lot. Bernie’s eyes spoke volumes.  Each recording session was a journey of laughter, tears, elation, and sorrow.  We harnessed massive surges of creativity more powerful than anything any of us had experienced before. 

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The band would walk into the studio with no plan. All we had was Bernie’s lyrics. Twice, the team listened to chord progressions that Bernie recorded on an iPhone before he got sick. Roger Rocha wrote the bass and guitar riffs. Daniel Berkman played drums and keys. I sang. Everyone took part in the writing process. Collaborating spontaneously, we started each day without a song. We would pick a page of Bernie’s lyrics, compose the music and melody, then record the track before the night was over.

Throughout the entire process, Bernie maintained a positive attitude and was genuinely lost in the music. Despite his sickness, we shared many joyful moments. What started out as a seemingly impossible proposition, creating music with a person who could hardly move and could not speak, turned into a joyful, inspiring experience.

Bernie’s story is one of courage, creativity, and perseverance. It is a testament to the power of music bringing people together to transcend hardship and physical deterioration. Bernie stands as a triumph of human spirit and an inspiration. 

Nicole and Essence in the studio

Nicole and Essence in the studio

The album is now complete. Connection will be released under the name Bernie and The Believers featuring Essence. The album will be available on iTunes and all online platforms on February 9, 2018. 

Now that the album is complete our goal has changed. We are raising money for Bernie's end of life care with a new Go Fund Me campaign called 'Send Bernie Home.' This campaign will help pay for Bernie's costly home care so he doesn't have to spend his remaining days in a nursing home not receiving the proper treatment. Each week of home care costs $12,500. He needs to be at home with the proper care and enjoy the time he has left surrounded by love and familiar faces. You can help send Bernie home by donating to the campaign below.


With love and gratitude,



Watch the music video for 'In Your Shoes' below:

You can click the button below to donate on Go Fund Me to ensure Bernie gets the proper homecare treatment he needs. Over $65,000 has already been raised. The goal is $300,000, which is enough for 6 months of homecare: