Tiny Desk

Ralph Stanley

The Tiny Desk Concert series almost always brings out the lighter side of both the artists who perform and the staff of NPR Music. When Tom Jones or the band Dr. Dog shows up, for example, it can feel like a child's birthday party or a field day from school, with lots of joking from a bunch of people glad to have a break from their normal routine. But when Dr. Ralph Stanley strolled in to give this Tiny Desk Concert, the office fell silent with the kind of reverence appropriate for a living legend.

That's not to say that Stanley was humorless. Standing at Bob Boilen's desk, in front of one of the largest crowds we've had at a Tiny Desk show, he held up a copy of the new autobiography he's been promoting, Man of Constant Sorrow, and told the audience, "I'd like to sell around a thousand of them today, here." When Bob asked if the book had every detail of the singer's life, Stanley said, "I didn't leave out a thing. And may have added some stuff." Later, when he sang an abbreviated version of "Amazing Grace," he told the audience, "I only know but the one verse," grossly understating his position as the dean of bluegrass and old-time gospel music. But, as he writes in his new book, "I'm just an old hillbilly, and proud of it, too. Plain as an old shoe."

Ralph Stanley's Tiny Desk set was shorter than most, but deeply moving. He didn't play his trademark clawhammer banjo, and no one accompanied him as he sang three songs a cappella: "Gloryland," "Turn Back, Turn Back" and "Amazing Grace."

[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

Tiny Desk Concert with Car Seat Headrest. Jun Tsuboike/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR

Tiny Desk

Car Seat Headrest

Will Toledo is a wordsmith with a vision, as well as a DIY sound that's still finely crafted.

Tiny Desk Concert with EL VY. NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR

Tiny Desk

EL VY

The National's Matt Berninger and Menomena's Brent Knopf team up in an intimate setting.

Tiny Desk Concert with The Arcs. Jessica Mowery/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jessica Mowery/NPR

Tiny Desk

The Arcs

It's our 500th show at the Tiny Desk, featuring The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach and his new band.

Tiny Desk Concert with Wolf Alice. NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR

Tiny Desk

Wolf Alice

The band's music can be noisy and primal, but at the Tiny Desk it showed a different side.

Tiny Desk Concert with River Whyless. Jun Tsuboike/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR

Tiny Desk

River Whyless

The North Carolina band fills its rootsy music with unexpected instruments and clever ideas.

Tiny Desk Concert with Benny Sings. Morgan Walker/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Morgan Walker/NPR

Tiny Desk

Benny Sings

The Dutch singer layers R&B, jazz and pop over hip-hop beats in his first-ever U.S. appearance.

Tiny Desk Concert with Natalie Merchant Jun Tsuboike /NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike /NPR

Tiny Desk

Natalie Merchant

The singer-songwriter gives a warmhearted performance of two new songs, an old favorite and a hymn.

Tiny Desk Concert with Mariachi Flor De Toloache Jun Tsuboike/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR

Tiny Desk

Mariachi Flor De Toloache

While on tour with The Arcs, the powerhouse mariachi band performs live in the NPR Music offices.

Tiny Desk Concert with Rapsody Jun Tsuboike/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR

Tiny Desk

Rapsody

Watch the rapper perform three songs from Beauty And The Beast live at the NPR Music offices.

In January, Mucca Pazza set a Tiny Desk record by fitting 23 members onstage. Colin Marshall/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Colin Marshall/NPR

All Songs Considered

2015: Looking Back On A Year At The Tiny Desk

This year, NPR Music published 84 sessions from behind Bob Boilen's desk. Here are 15 highlights.

Back To Top

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor