Lawrence Brownlee: Tiny Desk Concert With a supple, strong, high-flying voice that can negotiate the tightest hairpin turns with grace and elegance, Lawrence Brownlee has conquered the world's great opera houses. But for this performance, the tenor circles back to his roots as a singer of spirituals.

Tiny Desk

Lawrence Brownlee

Lawrence Brownlee: Tiny Desk Concert

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/228926490/229181919" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

These days, Lawrence Brownlee spends most of his time on the stages of the world's great opera houses. That's where you'll find him singing Rossini and Donizetti. His supple, strong, high-flying voice can negotiate the tightest hairpin turns with grace and elegance; that, and his ability to command the stage as an actor, has won Brownlee the praise of critics worldwide.

But as much as he excels at opera, there's a special place in Brownlee's heart for African-American spirituals. Growing up in Youngstown, Ohio, Brownlee sang gospel music in church, and now he's returning to that tradition by releasing a new album, Spiritual Sketches — and singing selections from it here in the NPR Music offices.

Brownlee bases much of his operatic success on his sturdy church-music grounding. "I would say that the flexibility I have with my voice is in large part because I sang gospel in church," Brownlee told NPR in 2007. "It's a lot of improvisational singing with a lot of riffs or runs."

The spirituals might be well-known, but through Brownlee's voice, they shine in new, occasionally jazz-inflected arrangements by Damien Sneed. "There Is a Balm in Gilead" floats in a newly contemplative mood with the addition of a few blue notes and chromatic touches, while the spunky piano line Justina Lee plays in "Come By Here" seems inspired by great stride players like James P. Johnson.

But the heart and soul of this concert is "All Night, All Day," a performance that swells with a potent combination of tenderness and operatic horsepower. The song speaks of a protective band of angels — angels that Brownlee told the audience are watching over his 3-year-old son Caleb, who's just been diagnosed with an autism-spectrum disorder.

"It's called 'All Night, All Day,' but I've renamed it 'Caleb's Song,'" Brownlee says. The soulful vocalisms with which Brownlee closes the song are gorgeous and tinged with anguish. Afterward, I heard one NPR staffer say it was the first time she'd ever wept at a Tiny Desk Concert.

Set List

  • "There Is A Balm In Gilead"
  • "All Night, All Day"
  • "Come By Here"

Credits

Producers: Denise DeBelius, Tom Huizenga; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; Videographers: Parker Miles Blohm, Denise DeBelius, Gaby Demczuk; photo by Hayley Bartels/NPR

[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

Charly Bliss plays a Tiny Desk Concert (Bob Boilen/NPR). Bob Boilen/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Bob Boilen/NPR

Charly Bliss

The vibrancy of the band can feel childlike and candy-coated. But the group's songs are more about the pain of entering adulthood and leaving some of that sweetness behind.

Sharon Van Etten performs during a Tiny Desk concert, on Sept. 23, 2019. (Mhari Shaw/NPR) Mhari Shaw/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Mhari Shaw/NPR

Sharon Van Etten

Nearly a decade after her first appearance at the Tiny Desk, Sharon Van Etten returns with a full band and a bigger, bolder sound.

Molly Sarlé plays a Tiny Desk Concert. Shuran Huang/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Shuran Huang/NPR

Molly Sarlé

After performing at the Tiny Desk as one third of the group Mountain Man, Molly Sarlé returns for a soul-stirring solo performance.

The Jonas Brothers play a Tiny Desk Concert on August 15, 2019 (Claire Harbage/NPR). Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Jonas Brothers

The brothers and their backing band gave a playful performance of three tracks from their latest album, Happiness Begins.

Josh Ritter (center) performs with Amanda Shires and Jason Isbell at a Tiny Desk Concert on Aug. 27, 2019. (Emily Bogle/NPR) Emily Bogle/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Emily Bogle/NPR

Josh Ritter With Amanda Shires And Jason Isbell

In his second visit to the Tiny Desk, Josh Ritter had America on his mind. "We all have to fight against this notion that we're not all human beings."

Ari Lennox plays a Tiny Desk Concert (Ben de la Cruz/NPR). Ben de la Cruz/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Ben de la Cruz/NPR

Ari Lennox

The R&B singer performed songs from her debut full-length, Shea Butter Baby.

Rosanne Cash plays a Tiny Desk Concert (Amr Alfiky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

Rosanne Cash

Roseanne Cash has been making great records for forty years, but she's never played or written better music than she's doing right now.

Y La Bamba plays a Tiny Desk Concert (Shuran Huang/NPR). Shuran Huang/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Shuran Huang/NPR

Y La Bamba

Y La Bamba returns for its second Tiny Desk performance with a revised musical vision.

Nilüfer Yanya plays a Tiny Desk Concert (Shuran Huang/NPR). Shuran Huang/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Shuran Huang/NPR

Nilüfer Yanya

There's a hush to the music of Nilüfer Yanya that made the Tiny Desk the perfect stage for her sound.

Rhiannon Giddens plays a Tiny Desk Concert on July 17, 2019 (Claire Harbage/NPR). Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Rhiannon Giddens

Giddens shares songs from her latest album, There is No Other, in an emotional and transfixing performance at the Tiny Desk.

Back To Top