Beating out 6,100 other entrants to win National Public Radio’s Tiny Desk Contest in early March was a major victory for Gaelynn Lea, but she was only getting started.
The Duluth singer, songwriter, violinist, teacher and advocate became something of a viral sensation thanks to the NPR competition. At 32, she won with a haunting but hopeful ballad called “Someday We’ll Linger in the Sun,” which she wrote for her husband, Paul Tressler, as they endured a series of bad breaks in the months ahead of their wedding.
“Absolutely obliterating your heart” is how Dan Auerbach of Ohio rock band the Black Keys described the song in the judges notes for the NPR contest.
In the months since her big break, Lea has flown around the country to perform for NPR-related events. She whizzed down to Minneapolis on a half-day’s notice to take the stage at First Avenue with indie-pop band Lucius.
She jumped over to Europe to tour with fellow Duluth music heroes Low, whose frontman Alan Sparhawk is also her bandmate in Murder of Crows. She even played the 25th-anniversary show for industrial rock band Pigface in Chicago this fall. She also dropped an inspired, serene Christmas album in November.
Along the way, Lea — who was born with brittle bone disease and works out of a wheelchair — spoke out for and provided hope for others with disabilities, and set an example for those without. “There are challenges we face every day,” she said, “and there are still so many ways we could all do to make things better for people with disabilities.”
Maybe most inspiring of all, Gaelynn and Paul took advantage of her growing tour schedule and uprooted themselves to hit the road on a permanent basis. They sold their house to travel in a van outfitted as a home-on-wheels. No telling where she’s headed next.