Adopted at birth, South Jersey Grammy winner D.L. Byron writes of his reunion with his biological mother and seven sisters
In his new autobiography, the Vineland native chronicles his amazing personal and professional journey.
D.L. Byron is psychic — and he thinks you probably are, too, if you’ll only nurture it.
He was a gifted boy who grew up unhappily in an adoptive family in Vineland. Then named Gary David Mesiano, he showed musical talent that his distant father and difficult mother discouraged. At 19, after attending the Peddie School in Hightstown, he headed to New York for a music career and changed his name to David Leigh Byron. All the while, one idea kept surfacing: His biological family was out there somewhere.
One high point of his music career was writing the hit song “Shadows of the Night,” for which power-pop chanteuse Pat Benatar won the 1983 Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. Meanwhile, Byron searched for his family. After almost 30 years — and thanks in part to the expanding internet — he found them: a mother and seven sisters, all living in South Jersey.
That emotional reunion has led to years of sustained closeness with them, which Byron chronicles in his new autobiography, Shadows of the Night: How One Man Survived the Trauma of Adoption, the Snares of the Music Business, and Found his Birthmother and Seven Sisters (Zen Archer). Byron, 66, spoke by phone from his Long Island beach house about a long search, a little luck, and why it’s sometimes a good idea to listen to your inner voices.
By age 5 you had intuited that you were not your parents’ biological child. Then your mother confirmed it by telling you that your birth mother was dead.
Hearing that at 5 years old nearly killed me — but it just did not ring true. Somewhere deep in my soul I knew she wasn’t telling the truth and had ulterior motives.
What were you picking up?
Aside from the lack of physical resemblance to my parents, there was an emotional, psychic disconnect [from them] that became too strong to ignore. I knew for a long time there was something missing, a connection other kids had with their parents and I didn’t have with mine. Later in life, I found out that I am psychic, and my biological mother and sisters are all psychic. I see it in my kids, too.
What’s it like being psychic?
Actually, it’s a great advantage if you can get in touch with it and nurture it. I think we all have this ability to some degree — some people just don’t want to go there. When I realized it, I didn’t dismiss it. I tried to be receptive and see where it led.
So, going on intuition, you search for years. You have a music career, encounters with bad producers, coked-out superstars, and despotic industry execs. And you write “Shadows of the Night,” a song that’s a hit for Pat Benatar. You’d made a phone deal to let her do it, yet hearing it on the radio was still a shock.
I’d originally agreed to write it as the theme song for this movie called Times Square. I went home, sat at the piano, thought about the story line, and in 20 minutes, pow. If you get out of the way, if you don’t resist, it just comes. A couple of years later, I was in my apartment in the West Village, and there was Pat Benatar singing on WNEW, and I sat there thinking, “Hey, I know that song,” and realized, “Wait a minute! That’s my song!” Next thing I know, it’s Grammy time.
In 1998, after years of looking for your biological family, you finally get that all-important phone number and are about to dial a person who may be a long-lost sibling. How did you feel?
Absolutely scared to death. I got the call from Betty, my caseworker at Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Camden. I had just got out of bed, I was naked, and I was shaking. It was everything I had wanted for so long, but now I had to act on it. And I got really scared about being turned away. They could just have said, “We know about you and we don’t want to hear from you anymore.” To tell the truth, I don’t know whether my heart could have taken that kind of rejection.
I called my wife and asked her to come home from work and sit with me as I called this lady named Dianne Ingemi. It was the hardest thing I had ever done: To call someone you don’t know and gently break the news that you have been looking for her and your family for all these years. “Here I am! How are we going to handle this?” And she turned out to be one of my middle sisters.
Your adoptive parents have passed away. You write that you have learned forgiveness, compassion, and — thanks to your birth mom — “the love she has made me feel for the first time in my life.”
Growing up adopted and an only child, and going from that to having this huge family is mind-boggling. My birth mom passed in 2015, so I had some really good years with her, and I am still in touch with my sisters all the time. Thanksgivings are really crazy. Seven sisters, like the constellation! At the end of the day, my demons are gone. I now feel freer. It was a healing thing and has made me very happy.