Bob Boilen

In 1988, a determined Bob Boilen started showing up on NPR's doorstep every day, looking for a way to contribute his skills in music and broadcasting to the network. His persistence paid off, and within a few weeks he was hired, on a temporary basis, to work for All Things Considered. Less than a year later, Boilen was directing the show and continued to do so for the next 18 years.

Significant listener interest in the music being played on All Things Considered, along with his and NPR's vast music collections, gave Boilen the idea to start All Songs Considered. "It was obvious to me that listeners of NPR were also lovers of music, but what also became obvious by 1999 was that the web was going to be the place to discover new music and that we wanted to be the premiere site for music discovery." The show launched in 2000, with Boilen as its host.

Before coming to NPR, Boilen found many ways to share his passion for music. From 1982 to 1986 he worked for Baltimore's Impossible Theater, where he held many posts, including composer, technician, and recording engineer. Boilen became part of music history in 1983 with the Impossible Theater production Whiz Bang, a History of Sound. In it, Boilen became one of the first composers to use audio sampling — in this case, sounds from nature and the industrial revolution. He was interviewed about Whiz Bang by Susan Stamberg on All Things Considered.

In 1985, the Washington City Paper voted Boilen 'Performance Artist of the Year.' An electronic musician, he received a grant from the Washington D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities to work on electronic music and performance.

After Impossible Theater, Boilen worked as a producer for a television station in Washington, D.C. He produced several projects, including a music video show. In 1997, he started producing an online show called Science Live for the Discovery Channel. He also put out two albums with his psychedelic band, Tiny Desk Unit, during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Boilen still composes and performs music and posts it for free on his website BobBoilen.info. He performs contradance music and has a podcast of contradance music that he produces with his son Julian.

Boilen's first book, Your Song Changed My Life, was published in April 2016 by HarperCollins.

From the moment Brittany Howard walked into the NPR offices, I could sense her intense commitment and passion. Her eight-piece backing band, all decked out in red and black, played with a soulful subtlety that bolstered Brittany Howard's tender songs about her family — stories of a mixed-race child growing up in Alabama.

Charly Bliss arrived at the Tiny Desk with roughly 20 gold balloons, a burst of energy and some glitter to match. The vibrancy, especially from singer Eva Hendricks, can feel childlike and candy-coated. On the other hand, the subject of these songs is more about the pain of entering adulthood and leaving some of that sweetness behind. The three songs performed at the Tiny Desk, all from the band's second album, Young Enough, are dark songs laced with the hope of bettering oneself.

Molly Sarlé began her fascination with the multitude of objects shelved behind the Tiny Desk back when she sang with Mountain Man earlier this year. This time, with her own band, those objects left by others inspired a tale of a sweaty towel, an old lover and more.

Josh Ritter came to the Tiny Desk with the enthusiasm of a young child and the wisdom of an old soul. He arrived armed with a message and musical soulmates, Amanda Shires on fiddle and Jason Isbell on acoustic guitar. Both play on Josh's 2019 album Fever Breaks; in fact, Jason produced the record.

There's a hush to the music of Nilüfer Yanya that made the Tiny Desk the perfect stage for her sound. On a hot summer day, the British singer and her band — made up of Jazzi Bobbi primarily on sax, Lucy Lu on bass, Ellis Dupuy on drums and Nilüfer on guitar and vocals — performed their three-song set with restraint and subtlety. At moments, the music felt like an eruption waiting to happen, though the suave, refined sound left an indelible vibe in the room.

It's 10 years almost to the day since we published The Tallest Man On Earth's Tiny Desk in 2009. What I remember most about that performance was the intensity of Kristian Matsson and how astonished our audience was to discover him. I think of it as one of our very first viral videos. Tiny Desk Concerts were in their infancy in 2009; we had recorded only about 25 by the time he visited my desk.

A-WA: Tiny Desk Concert

Sep 3, 2019

The last time we filmed these three Israeli sisters, they were sitting in my hotel room during South by Southwest, performing a heartbreaking lullaby, accompanied by just a guitarist. Now Liron, Tagel and Tair Haim are behind my desk with a full band of keyboards, bass, guitar and drums, singing more forlorn tunes in their unique three-part harmony.

"Is it ok if I do a little dance on your desk?" asked 47SOUL singer and percussionist Walaa Sbeit on first seeing the Tiny Desk. I thought a minute, went under the desk, tightened the bolts, stuck some splints of wood under a few of the uneven legs and (feeling reassured) gave him the nod. It would be our first traditional Middle Eastern Dabke dancing atop the Tiny Desk and the first sounds of Shamstep (a kind of electronic dance music) behind it.

Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz made everything seem so easy, pulling a few acoustic instruments out of their car and, in no time, huddling around a single microphone behind the Tiny Desk. With that, Mandolin Orange was ready.

Emily bowed her fiddle while Andrew strummed a guitar and sang about his mom being carried away in a hearse. "Golden Embers" is the lead-off track to Mandolin Orange's 2019 album Tides of a Teardrop. This song shines a light on the darkness that fell on Andrew's family when he was 18.

When Among Authors arrived at NPR, the Seattle band seemed like a pack of eager pups — and with good reason. The odds of this unsigned, self-managed quartet playing a Tiny Desk concert was pretty small, but Among Authors is a band that beats the odds. Nearly a dozen years ago, at 23, bandleader Ian Ketterer had open-heart surgery. Born without a thumb on his right hand and deaf in his right ear, he plays piano and sings.

Note: With hosts Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton away this week, we've got an encore presentation of The Worst Songs Of All Time, from Feb. 2014.


Guitarist, actor, writer (and former Monitor Mix blogger) Carrie Brownstein joins us, along with NPR Music's Stephen Thompson, to do something we don't normally do: Talk about the songs we really, really don't like.

For the past 14 years, producer Andy Zax has been digging into the music and sounds of Woodstock, that culture-shifting music festival that unfolded in August of 1969. Now, 50 years later, all 32 performances — the audio announcements, the entirety of this three-day festival in upstate New York — is about to be released by Rhino Records in a 38-disc box titled Woodstock - Back To The Garden:The Definitive 50th Anniversary Archive.

I was thrilled to have the gifted voice of Tamino gracing the Tiny Desk. But as charged as I was, that didn't match the excitement that Colin Greenwood expressed as we rode up the elevator. The Radiohead bassist (and bassist for this special performance) shared a brief text exchange with his son, basically telling his hugely accomplished dad that playing the Tiny Desk was "the coolest thing he'd ever done!" That made us all smile.

We've been covering Priests, this fabulous, punk-infused art band, since 2013. I've seen them a lot (they're based here in D.C.). So the request of an upright piano was the last thing I expected when singer Katie Alice Greer and guitarist G.L. Jaguar talked about doing a Tiny Desk Concert. But we wheeled the Yamaha upright in place and they invited their accompanist Mary Voutsas to join bandmates Daniele Yandel and Alexandra Tyson. What we have is a kinder, gentler and starker version of this great band.

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In the NPR parking garage, Gemma Doherty pulled her 34-string lever harp from the band's vehicle; it seemed bigger than all of us. The other instruments were less exotic — a few small synthesizers, a sampler, electronic drum pads — but I was feeling thrilled by what was about to unfold.

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This just in: The Muppets have arrived at NPR!

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Count von Count and the NPR kids count us down: 5 ... 4 ... 3 ... 2 ... 1!

Before I bring an artist to the Tiny Desk, I try to see them perform live. It helps me get a handle on what they'll be capable of doing at my desk, minus all the artful tinkering of a studio. But I never saw Tomberlin before she came to my desk.

Jeremy Dutcher came to the Tiny Desk with sparkling, purple streams of glitter draped around his shoulders. Then he set his iPad on our Yamaha upright piano, not to read his score as pianists do these days, but to play a centuries-old wax cylinder recording of a song sung in the incredibly rare language of Wolastoq. Jeremy Dutcher, along with cellist Blanche Israel and percussionist and electronics wizard Greg Harrison, wove that old recording into a remarkably passionate performance that was very 21st-century, with a deep nod to a century past.

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When Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart fired up their angular guitar sounds during soundcheck at the Tiny Desk, I was thrilled. The shrieking, rhythmic noise these two classically trained musicians make as Ohmme is what made their debut album, Parts, a musical highlight for me in 2018. But hearing them in the office, trading vocals with such ping-pong precision, sent me into euphoria. This is now one of my all-time favorite Tiny Desk concerts.

Prepare to be calmed.

It was a day when sunlight drenched the office and the songs of heart from Courtney Marie Andrews felt right at home. It's been a year since her comforting album, May Your Kindness Remain, came out. Amazingly it's her sixth record, and yet she's still a just few years shy of 30. The opening number here at the Tiny Desk, the album's title track, is a shining example of why the songs of Courtney Marie Andrews endure, beginning with her words, based on friendships, and the understanding of a kind soul.

I had a surprise for Chill Moody when he arrived at the Tiny Desk: a concealed strawberry shortcake (his favorite) for his 34th birthday. His musical partners, singer Donn T and the rest of his Philly crew known as &More, all brought out the cake and candles, sharing in the celebration. It was a fitting moment to have between the group's performance of inspirational songs. &More's music is often about the experience of being black in America, blending hip-hop and R&B with a motivational message and a Philadelphia flair.

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There's new music from Big Thief: a song, released today, called "UFOF," and the band's third album, coming May 3, titled

Scott Mulvahill has been trying to win the Tiny Desk Contest for each of its four years. He's always been one of our favorites, though he's never been our winner. The double bassist entered his song, "Begin Againers" in 2016 and though it wasn't the winning entry, we all loved it so much, I invited him to my desk to perform his extraordinary song. He opened the Tiny Desk with it, only this time he was joined by bandmates Jesse Isley and Josh Shilling who shared vocal harmonies.

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