Tiny Desk

Jim White

Jim White is a storyteller first, a musician second. When I first heard his music more than a decade ago, I felt compelled to call him up. His musical tales were so compelling, I thought he'd make a great storyteller for All Things Considered. White loved the idea, so I asked him for a four-minute tale — an appropriate length for a radio newsmagazine. He turned in a 13-minute story. I asked him to shorten it; he came back with 17 minutes. He never got on the air.

Jim White and I stayed in touch, and still correspond now and then. Ten years later, I still enjoy his music, his descriptions and love of detail. His tales have been much darker in the past, but these days, White says he's trying to be more optimistic. It's a kind of storytelling rooted in his own unusual history: He grew up in Florida in a deeply Pentecostal community and fell in love with the white gospel music he heard. But from there, he took a surprising path to become a full-time musician. He was a professional surfer, a boxer, a fashion model in Milan and a cab driver in New York City. When he finally picked up the guitar and wrote a handful of songs for a demo, the tape found its way to David Byrne's Luaka Bop label, which has been releasing White's music ever since. He just put out a new six-song EP titled A Funny Little Cross to Bear.

White's travels recently took him near Washington, D.C., so I invited him to play for one of our Tiny Desk Concerts. What we recorded turned out to be the longest of all the shows we've done at my desk. I expected no less.

Set List
  • "Jailbird"
  • "Turquoise House"
  • "Stranger Candy"
  • "Somewhere in the World"
  • "A Town Called Amen"

Cameras and production by Bob Boilen and Frannie Kelley

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