She grew up in Connecticut, in a household filled with music. Her late brother, Joe Berlingo, the jazz saxophonist and leader of the Joe Berlin Quartet, taught his sister, 10 years his junior, to play blues chords on the piano so that she could jam with him. Cassella remembers "As a child, I would sit for hours at my brother's feet as he practiced his scales on the tenor sax, clarinet or flute." The music of Joe's heroes-Stan Getz, Stan Kenton, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Mark Murphy-filled her with wonder: "I would scat to tunes played on the radio, not really knowing what I was doing." Young Dee had developed a passion for jazz.
But music wasn't a big part of Cassella's life until fairly recently. After raising two daughters, she left her 17-year career as the owner of a real estate company in Norwalk, CT. and began to practice as a psychotherapist in Connecticut and Manhattan. Her supportive, positive energy could now be channeled to making a difference in people's lives. But in the early years of working with clients, Cassella was surprised to find that she herself had a deep resistance to making vocal sounds.
Many years of therapy revealed that a hidden message of "don't make a sound" was integrated as an unconscious belief. This was due to Dee being traumatized in infancy. When she was two months old, she had congestion one day and began to cough. In an effort to go to her, Dee's mother put a pot of boiling water from the stove onto the floor. Dee's sister Nancy, 2 ½, fell into it and died two days later. This created the unconscious block to making any vocal sound.
Dee decided to work with a voice teacher, Arlene Stone, to overcome this block. It amazed her to learn that she had a voice - indeed, real vocal talent. But, in the beginning, she was severely limited in what she could do with that talent because she still could not overcome her inhibitions. She began to explore singing with different teachers, but the emotional block continued for seven years, even as she began to sing and perform in concerts and clubs.
Cassella found the key to desensitizing her deeply-rooted anxiety while training for certification in Francine Shiparo's EMDR therapy-a practice that specializes in removing uncomfortable feelings connected to trauma. In the training, Dee worked on her fear of performing. Her deep-rooted feeling of being responsible for Nancy's death came up and was worked through and desensitized. That was when Dee uncovered the freedom to become a jazz singer. When she performed the following week, it felt like a miracle had happened; she has never again had a problem with singing discomfort. Dee says,"EMDR has changed my life. It's opened up a new world to me and I now integrate this wonderful therapy into my current Body-Oriented Psychotherapy practice. In addition to working with people with trauma issues, I feel I can be of help to those with creative problems such as performance anxiety. Dee has a private practice in Connecticut and New York City.
Cassella now finds joy performing regularly in New York and Connecticut. She captivated and thrilled her audience at her sold-out CD release show in Milford, CT and an encore performance of her standing-ovation crowned show at the New York Metropolitan Room. "My CD, 'I'm Here Now,' is a tribute to my long journey to finding my voice and feeling myself worthy of it," she says. "I chose each song for the truth it holds for me, and the wisdom that unfolds within it." "I'm Here Now" is dedicated to Dee's siblings Joe and Nancy Berlingo. "My brother Joe passed away in 1989 never knowing his little sister could sing. My voice is now my life force, and I sing for Nancy and for Joe, in my heart—forever and always. It would have been such a hoot to have been a vocalist in his 16-piece jazz band.
Maybe he's up there smiling down at me now."