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Duluth fiddler prevails as NPR's Tiny Desk Contest winner

Duluth's Gaelynn Lea

Duluth's Gaelynn Lea

National Public Radio's competition for a chance to play one of its beloved Tiny Desk Concerts — dubbed Tiny Desk Contest — saw more than 6,000 entries, including many from Minnesota musicians like shimmery pop-rock quartet Teenage Moods and folky conglomerate William Within.

The winner? Duluth-based fiddle player and singer Gaelynn Lea.

The performance of her song “Someday We’ll Linger in the Sun," posted below, swept away the contest’s six judges, including Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys who said Lea's song "starts off with the sound of 20 old floorboards groaning and creaking in unison, and then Karen Dalton and Joanna Newsom melt together in the form of [Lea] and set about absolutely obliterating your heart.”

On her Facebook page, Lea wrote: “Thank you, thank you, thank you for the sweet words today! It is a very special day for me and I will remember this for a long, long time. Congratulations to all the entrants for the 2016 #TinyDeskConcert… You are proof that music and creativity is alive and well in America! Thanks also to the sweet folks at NPR Music for helping to prepare me for this day!”

She’ll head to NPR headquarters in D.C. on Tuesday to perform her very own Tiny Desk Concert, the popular video segment where music stars offer up stripped-down performances in the public-radio station's offices. 

Lea, 32, is a frequent collaborator with Duluth musicians like Alan Sparhawk of Low and Retribution Gospel Choir and blues-folk artist Charlie Parr. The violin player for more than 20 years has one solo album, All the Roads That Lead Us Home, which showcases her trusty Memory Man pedal to layer and repeat sweeping fiddle sounds.

On Thursday, Lea told All Things Considered about the congenital disease she has, commonly known as "brittle bones disease." 

"I play my violin like a cello — I don't even play it the way that most people do, up on their shoulder. So it's pretty different-looking," she said, describing how her submitted video purposely doesn't show her at the start. "And so I just didn't want that to be the first thing that people thought about. Because I know it's a music contest, and I really wanted to be competitive that way."

Lea gives lessons on Celtic and American fiddle and improvisational violin in Duluth. Expect a sharp increase in students, Gaelynn. You’re a coveted talent.