Duluth’s Gaelynn Lea inspires with NPR concert

Alan Sparhawk congratulates Gaelynn Lea after her NPR TIny Desk concert. (screenshot)

Alan Sparhawk congratulates Gaelynn Lea after her NPR TIny Desk concert. (screenshot)

Last week, Duluth musician Gaelynn Lea won the annual NPR Tiny Desk concert series contest for emerging artists.

This week, she flew to Washington to perform at the famous tiny desk where NPR music writers once stashed piles of music. The desk now hosts countless musicians, both famous and up-and-coming.

It’s a beautiful performance, which features fellow Duluthian Alan Sparhawk of Low on two songs. Lea and Sparhawk play in a side project called A Murder of Crows, which can be heard around Duluth time to time.

You can watch the Gaelynn Lea Tiny Desk Concert here:

NPR’s Bob Boilen wrote this about the Gaelynn Lea concert:

Gaelynn Lea, the winner of NPR’s second annual Tiny Desk Contest, makes music like nobody else. Her sounds are steeped in the deep melodies of great Irish fiddle tunes, but her performance and singing style aren’t traditional. More than 6,000 artists submitted videos in which they performed an original song behind a desk of their choosing with the hope of winning a chance to play a Tiny Desk concert at NPR. Gaelynn Lea was the overwhelming favorite of our six judges.

After voting for Lea, I wanted to learn more about her and her remarkable talent. Following about a minute of just focusing on the desk, her video pans to a small woman in a wheelchair as she plays a violin she holds like a cello. Lea has brittle bone disease, which made it necessary for her to reinvent the ordinary — and, in this case, a way to play the fiddle.

I also discovered, after selecting Gaelynn Lea, that she’d become friends with Alan Sparhawk of the band Low. Sparhawk first heard her perform at a farmers market in Duluth, Minn., where they both live. They’ve become friends who sometimes make music together, recording under the name The Murder Of Crows, so I also invited Sparhawk to join Gaelynn Lea for two of her four songs at this special Tiny Desk concert. There was hardly a dry eye.

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