Elizabeth Dellinger, a lifelong vocalist and performer, felt like she was kicked in the throat.
Nearly four years after a bout of cancer, a botched surgery and a period of silence, she has found solace in learning new instruments, rediscovering her voice, and helping others find theirs.
Dellinger (aka Lady Liz) is a touring vocalist, composer, and vocal coach To pursue a music career, Dellinger moved from Greater New Haven to New York City and starting working as a studio vocalist and collaborating with artists across the country. She teaches and mentors singers of all ages at her House of Voice at MAC650 Gallery in Middletown.
(Click here for a story about a recent performance at Pacific Standard Tavern.)
“I have a pretty great portfolio of classic fails,” Dellinger said on the latest “#FailMonth” edition of WNHH FM’s “Werk It Out” prgoram with Mercy Quaye. “But the biggest one, the one you probably know me for is having to overcome vocal paralysis.”
In 2014, shortly after deciding to leave her office job and take her part-time passion full time, Dellinger was working on putting together her first live project as a vocalist.
“It was building momentum and getting some buzz,” Dellinger said. “But I was experiencing some difficulty singing high notes, and I kind of felt like something was off.”
A visit to her doctor for a sore throat resulted in a diagnosis that had the potential to change the trajectory of her life and career.
“I had thyroid cancer that was undiagnosed for a while, and it was affecting my voice,” she said. “Everything vocally had to stop.”
Though she didn’t know for certain how long she had had cancer, she said, she had known something was off in her sound for nearly four years. She recalled a nodule in her throat that “nobody bothered to biopsy.”
Her road to recovery was slow and difficult, she said, due in part to her surgeon failing to remove all of the cancer and temporarily paralyzing her vocal cords. As a result, she spent a month in silence and the following months relearning how to sing and even speak.
“It was an incredible and transformative experience,” she said. “I was always a great communicator, speaker, and singer, but I had to become a great listener.”
Dellinger started physical therapy for her voice and slowly regained the ability to sing, though she is still short one vocal cord and her range is cut in half. This experience, she said, made it easy to pick up other instruments, help train aspiring vocalists, and even do group music therapy for special needs children and adults.
“[I got to see] how, in a group setting, people who are nonverbal, would become quite bubbly through sharing musical memories,” she said. “I realized at the end of all this, that’s what it’s really about for me, just being able to express myself with music: there’s no feeling like that.”
To hear what Dellinger sounds like now, after nursing her voice back from a whisper, click on or download the above audio file or the Facebook Live video below to hear the full episode of “Werk It Out” on WNHH FM.