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.

Longtime NPR fans may remember another contribution Boilen made to NPR. He composed the original theme music for NPR's Talk of the Nation.

EL VY: Tiny Desk Concert

Jan 29, 2016

It's fun to see something truly new from someone whose work you love. Matt Berninger came to the Tiny Desk as lead singer of The National a few years ago, but this time he's collaborating with Brent Knopf from the bands Menomena and Ramona Falls. EL VY is their new project, and the two are perfect foils for each other — especially in this intimate setting, which highlights Knopf's playful piano and Berninger's resonant voice.

Today, we celebrate the release of our 500th Tiny Desk concert. It's amazing that something that started as a bit of a wisecrack has been so widely embraced by artists and fans. In 2008 at SXSW in Austin, NPR Music's Stephen Thompson and I met up to see singer Laura Gibson. Laura was so quiet, and the crowd was so loud and rude — something about a March basketball game — that Stephen jokingly asked her to come play at my desk so we could hear her.

Sometime between today and tomorrow, more than 67 million Americans in 19 states are facing blizzard or winter storm warnings. So we at the Tiny Desk had an idea.

What is the role of a white person in the struggle of black people fighting injustice? That's the question posed by Ben Haggerty, better known as Macklemore, as he puzzles out his own role as a white artist in love with hip-hop on a new song called "White Privilege II." Macklemore & Ryan Lewis released the song as a free download overnight via a website that also offers links to "supporting black led organizations," and already, conversation and controversy have begun.

I think of Wolf Alice as noisy and primal, but at the Tiny Desk, the band showed a different side — one that was childlike, pretty and quietly wonderful. I knew the three songs the group played from Wolf Alice's 2015 album My Love Is Cool, but I hardly recognized them at first. One test when you're trying to spot talent is seeing how artists step up to a challenge, and Wolf Alice's songs sound muscular even when stripped of volume. The Mercury Prize-nominated British band is a great discovery, and I'm still enchanted.

This immensely talented band from Asheville, N.C., was my favorite discovery at this year's Americana Music Festival. River Whyless builds its music around fiddle, guitar and harmonies, with imagination and textures that set the band apart from many of its acoustic and folk-based peers.

In the summer of 2014, Natalie Merchant came to Washington, D.C., to perform her first album of all-new material in 13 years. She was supposed to play here at my desk the day after that evening's performance. Instead, she fell ill, wound up in a D.C. hospital, and canceled her upcoming dates.

After seeing exactly 662 bands in each 2013 and 2014, my concert attendance plummeted in 2015. This past year I saw only 506 bands take the stage, but I have an excuse. I wrote a book.

It's A Holiday Soul Party! isn't just the title of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings' new album. It also describes perfectly what you're about to see. No one does old-school soul like this band, and having the group perform traditional and nontraditional tunes for the holiday brought joy and laughs to NPR's staff.

Son Little's music pushes gospel and blues into the 21st century with guitar processing, including backward drones, and choirs made from his looped voice. As wonderful as his 2015 self-titled album sounds, having him at the Tiny Desk with his acoustic guitar and unprocessed voice, accompanied only by his soulful singing sister, Megan Livingston, and percussionist Jabari Exum was gently uplifting.

Have you ever watched a Tiny Desk Concert and thought, "Hey, I want to do that!?" Well, now's your chance to play behind my desk here at NPR. That's right: We're bringing NPR Music's Tiny Desk Contest back for a second year.

Here's what you do.

When Alejandro Rose-Garcia, aka Shakey Graves, breaks out his guitar and suitcase kick drum/hi-hat, a palpable rush of swooning adrenaline hits the room. I felt that at the Americana Festival in Nashville, at the Newport Folk Festival and here at the Tiny Desk.

When I first saw this Denver trio on its home turf last spring, I was swiftly drawn into its mysterious swirl. Martina Grbac sings quietly, and her voice — echoing and effects-laden — sits nicely on top of her percussive cello, James Han's textures and Ross Harada's perfectly placed percussion.

The moment Brooklyn soul singer Sharon Jones sang the line, "We're cooking up the brisket the kosher butcher sold my uncle Saul," I knew the world had a new Hanukkah classic. This week, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings played a special, holiday-themed Tiny Desk Concert that included this new song, "8 Days (Of Hanukkah)."

When The Oh Hellos piled out of a van at NPR, someone remarked that it was like a clown car: Band members just kept coming, including brother and sister Tyler and Maggie Heath and their mom. They were all road-weary, trading sniffles, coughs and more. But the nine-piece group brought anthemic joy to the Tiny Desk in the form of buoyant songs whose underpinnings could still be dark and lonely.

This essay first appeared in the 2010 book This Is NPR: The First Forty Years, a collection of writing by NPR staff and contributors.


I should have cared more, but I didn't. I should have cried, but I didn't.

He meant so much to me.

But the day John Lennon died, my life and his music were never more distant.

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