Duluth’s Gaelynn Lea wins NPR Tiny Desk contest

Duluth musician Gaelynn Lea won the coveted National Public Radio Tiny Desk contest for emerging musicians. (screen shot)

Duluth musician Gaelynn Lea won the coveted National Public Radio Tiny Desk contest for emerging musicians. (screen shot)

In a stunning upset, Duluth, Minnesota, musician Gaelynn Lea won the coveted National Public Radio Tiny Desk concert series contest for emerging artists this week.

Her song “Someday We’ll Linger in the Sun” was recorded with just Lea’s voice, her violin, an amp and a looping pedal.

Here’s some of what NPR’s judges said:

Holly Laessig said it best: “Hers was the one melody that stayed with me throughout the process. It’s captivating and powerful.” Robin Hilton, my cohost on All Songs Considered, said, “Gaelynn Lea had the most arresting voice and overall sound I heard in this competition. While judging each entry, I’d listen to the song first, then watch the video if I was moved by the music to spend more time with it. I was profoundly moved by Lea’s song, particularly its serpentine, earworm melody and the tremendous heartache in her poetry.”

Gaelynn is a 32-year-old classically trained fiddler whose music is steeped in Celtic tradition and American fiddle tunes. Her fiddle style is shaped by those traditions but also the challenge she has, playing an instrument that is almost as large as she is. Gaelynn was born with brittle bone disease, a congenital disability that makes playing the violin tucked tightly under the chin not a comfortable option. Instead she plays it upright, as a cellist might.

In the original tune she submitted, “Someday We’ll Linger in the Sun,” Gaelynn creates a beautiful droning loop with her JamMan Express loop pedal and after a moody minute begins to sing a yearning tale of life’s preciousness and time’s constant ticking and why we should always care. “Don’t tell me we’ve got time / the subtle thief of life / it slips away when we pay no mind,” she sings in a somewhat childlike and haunting voice. She ends with the phrase, “Someday we’ll linger in the sun / And I love you.”

That’s such a universal message — simple, thoughtful and relatable. Truth be told I saw musicians with better craft than Gaelynn, heard singers more capable. That was true of last year’s winner as well. Skill and craft is a part of how we select a winner. What Gaelynn Lea did for all of our judges, myself included, was to make something memorable. As Jess Wolfe put it, Gaelynn Lea created something “so unusual/beautiful and like nothing we’ve ever heard before.”

Lea is well known in the unique, scrappy Duluth music scene. She plays with Alan Sparhawk of Low in a side project called Murder of Crows. This year she released her first solo album “All the Roads that Lead Us Home,” a self-produced showcase of fiddle tunes recorded at Sacred Heart Music Studio in Duluth. You can find out more at Gaelynn Lea’s website.

Here is Gaelynn Lea’s award-winning video:

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.