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Alicia Keys performed her Tiny Desk concert on Feb. 2, 2020. Kisha Ravi/NPR hide caption

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Alicia Keys performed her Tiny Desk concert on Feb. 2, 2020.

Kisha Ravi/NPR

They feel like sepia-toned dispatches from the Before-Times, beamed from a magical place where musicians could safely raise their voices indoors and let their assembled droplets waft over an appreciative crowd. But the 50 Tiny Desk concerts we published this year — the ones we recorded in NPR Music's Washington, D.C., offices before the pandemic hit — reflect not only a recent past but also a promise for the relatively near future.

Beginning in late March, NPR Music shifted gears to launch Tiny Desk (home) concerts, a series that's built up its own treasure trove of intimacy and innovation. We'll publish a best-of package for those performances tomorrow, but in the meantime, here's a look at some of the best shows we recorded in the months leading up to March 11 — the last day the Tiny Desk welcomed musical visitors.

The last time I let myself get roped into this particular project, back in 2018, I managed to whittle 128 Tiny Desk concerts down to just 25 — a Herculean feat of winnowing from which I'm still smarting. To keep that ratio alive in 2020, I'd need to hack and slash until just 10 Tiny Desk concerts remained. And it just can't be done. So let's double it and go with 20 highlights from our truncated year, listed chronologically. And then we'll hang on until we can resume this wonderful, discovery-packed series in a newer, better, more heavily vaccinated world.

Joyce DiDonato

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Yola

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Wale

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Max Richter

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Koffee

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Baby Rose

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Laura Stevenson

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Snoh Aalegra

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Jenny Lewis

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Cimafunk

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Terri Lyne Carrington + Social Science

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Coldplay

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Chika

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Harry Styles

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Angelica Garcia

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The Free Nationals feat. Anderson .Paak, Chronixx & India Shawn

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Jon Batiste

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Lankum

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Hadestown

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Alicia Keys

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Publisher: Stephen Thompson