Watch the Winner of NPR's 2016 Tiny Desk Contest's Inspiring Submission Video

Watch the Winner of NPR's 2016 Tiny Desk Contest's Inspiring Submission Video

Since its launch in December 2014, NPR's Tiny Desk Contest has become something of a grail for rising independent artists. The rules are simple, and it's about as open and democratic as a battle of the bands can get. All a performer has to do is set up a desk, press record, sing and share. 

The judges don't look for quality recording or technique — they simply look for truly inspired and moving songs. Last year, they introduced an incredible talent to the world in Fantastic Negrito, an Oakland, California-based singer dedicated to reviving "black roots music." This year's winner is just as compelling. 

NPR announced Gaelynn Lea as this year's winner Thursday. She's a 32-year-old classically trained fiddle player from Duluth, Minnesota, whose music is steeped in Celtic and Americana traditions. She brings some modern flair, however, with loop pedals and a haunting croon that's spellbinding.

Source: YouTube

Before becoming 2016's Tiny Desk champion, Lea had been working as a professional musician, a fiddle teacher and a public speaker advocating for the rights of people with a disability. Lea has congenital osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bones disease.

"In recent years, she has used her music as a platform to advocate for people with disabilities and to promote positive social change," Lea's website reads. "Gaelynn believes society must make accessibility a priority so people with disabilities can participate fully in their communities and use their talents and gifts without discrimination."

Her win will obviously provide her a much larger platform to continue to spread these positive messages. She'll soon head to Washington, D.C. to perform behind NPR's actual Tiny Desk, and will then head out for a U.S. tour sponsored by NPR and Lagunitas.

Tom Barnes
Staff Writer