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Laura Gibson: A Voice Fit For A Tiny Desk

Click the audio link on this page to hear Laura Gibson's interview withWeekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin. Below, NPR Music's Stephen Thompson reflects on Gibson's place in the history of the Tiny Desk Concerts.

Singer-songwriter Laura Gibson served as the inspiration and guinea pig for the Tiny Desk Concerts back in the spring of 2008, after Bob Boilen and I witnessed her struggle to be heard over the din of a yappy crowd at SXSW. I suggested to Bob that we'd be better off asking her to play a concert at his desk rather than straining to hear her at a bar, so we waited around after the show and suggested the notion to Gibson. It felt like an imposition, but she jumped at the idea — and noted that she'd be in Washington, D.C., in three weeks.

The solo performance we captured was spare and gorgeous, and the series evolved quickly, from quiet singer-songwriters (Gibson, Vic Chesnutt, Sam Phillips) to the noisier likes of Tom Jones, Chuck Brown and The Avett Brothers. As of this writing, we've recorded more than 200 Tiny Desk Concerts. Bob's desk, in addition to being a place where he works and distracts his colleagues with scatterbrained shenanigans, now sits under professional video lighting; while my desk houses a menagerie of wind-up robots and drinking birds, Bob's permanently houses a microphone that's worth more than my car. (Three hundred dollars!)

The whole time the series has been going on, Laura Gibson has been making gorgeous music. We've been blown away by the albums she's released in the past few years — Beasts of Seasons and this year's La Grande — which build on her sonic palette without sacrificing the intimacy of her fragile, whispery voice. So who could be better to help us celebrate Tiny Desk Concert No. 200? Other musicians, like Nels Cline and Marketa Irglova, have played the desk once as a headliner and once as a collaborator. But Laura Gibson, the inspiration for our labor of love, had to be the first to headline twice.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)