Tiny Desk

Afro Blue

"Afro Blue" is a jazz standard written by Mongo Santamaria in 1959, with a lyric added later by Oscar Brown Jr. It's been performed countless times, by everyone from John Coltrane to Robert Glasper and Erykah Badu. The beautifully understated words include the phrases "undulating grace," "elegant boy," "beautiful girl," "shades of delight" and "cocoa hue."

Afro Blue, a nine-member a cappella troupe from Howard University in Washington, D.C., is all that and more. Its members sing as one with nuance, ease and experience, as if they've been singing together for years. But they haven't: The ensemble is ever-changing, as students graduate and new members audition for a coveted spot in the lineup.

Professor Connaitre Miller formed the vocal jazz ensemble in 2002. Afro Blue recently reached the final four on NBC's The Sing-Off, and it routinely performs at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. It played at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem with Dianne Reeves, and just recently was invited to the White House to perform for the president.

The list of awards and accolades continues to grow, as does the list of invitations to sing. But Miller often turns them down so that the students have enough time to study and don't miss class.

While it usually performs standard "vocal big band" songs and jazz blended with contemporary pop music, Afro Blue recently stopped by Bob Boilen's Tiny Desk to sing African-American spirituals — songs that can never grow old so long as talented young groups like Afro Blue sing them this well.

Set List
  • "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot"
  • "Motherless Child"
  • "Ain-a That Good News!"

Amelia Brown, Imani-Grace Cooper, John Kenniebrew, Taylar Lee, Ayodele Owolabi, Peter Roberts, Devin Robinson, Matthew Robinson, Shacara Rogers, Marissa Zechinato


Producers: Denise DeBelius, Suraya Mohamed; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; Videographers: Denise DeBelius, Becky Harlan, Meredith Rizzo; photo by Abbey Oldham/NPR

[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

Tiny Desk Concert with Deqn Sue. Jun Tsuboike/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR

Tiny Desk

Deqn Sue

She came so close to winning NPR Music's Tiny Desk Concert Contest, we just had to see her play.

Tiny Desk Concert with Lianne La Havas Jun Tsuboike /NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Jun Tsuboike /NPR

Tiny Desk

Lianne La Havas

The singer is soulful yet playful, raw and vulnerable in a commanding kind of way.

Tiny Desk Concert with The Internet. Cameron Robert/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Cameron Robert/NPR

Tiny Desk

The Internet

The R&B band might just be the oddest thing to come from the hip-hop collective Odd Future.

Tiny Desk Concert with Joan Shelley and Nathan Salsburg. Lani Milton/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Lani Milton/NPR

Tiny Desk

Joan Shelley

As technology rules the day, here's a reminder that a single voice can carry deep emotion.

Tiny Desk Concert with Gina Chavez Lydia Thompson/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Lydia Thompson/NPR

Tiny Desk

Gina Chavez

The Austin singer-songwriter performs with intense openness, directness and warmth.

Fiona Apple performs with the Watkins Family Hour at the Tiny Desk. Ariel Zambelich/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Ariel Zambelich/NPR

Tiny Desk

Watkins Family Hour

With help from Fiona Apple, two Nickel Creek alums gather a band to perform old and new songs.

Tiny Desk Concert with Chris and Morgane Stapleton Lani Milton/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Lani Milton/NPR

Tiny Desk

Chris Stapleton

With his wife Morgane, the country singer-songwriter sings patient, detailed songs of devotion.

Tiny Desk Concert with Sam Lee Lydia Thompson /NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Lydia Thompson /NPR

Tiny Desk

Sam Lee

The singer found his voice by finding and preserving old British, Irish and Scottish folk songs.

Tiny Desk Concert with Leon Bridges Lydia Thompson/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Lydia Thompson/NPR

Tiny Desk

Leon Bridges

Bridges is easy to love and hard to resist, with purity in his voice that's untouched by modern pop.

Tiny Desk Concert with Happyness Morgan Walker/NRR hide caption

itoggle caption Morgan Walker/NRR

Tiny Desk


If you're a fan of dark, incredibly dry, wry humor, you've just found Happyness.

Back To Top