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Counting down your favorite St. Louis Tiny Desk picks: Monkh and the People & Roland Johnson

Tiny Desk Saint Louis logo rooftop concert
Susannah Lohr
On Thursday, March 13, St. Louis Public Radio will host a Tiny Desk STL Happy Hour to celebrate the local acts that participated in this year's Tiny Desk Contest.

More than 50 local acts submitted to NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest this year. There were over 6,000 entires nationally.

While the winner of the national contest, Tank and The Bangas,  has been crowned, we decided here at St. Louis Public Radio to ask for your help selecting a few local favorites. After an intense voting round, we've narrowed down the top five local submissions to the contest, which we'll be highlighting on our website and on St. Louis on the Air this week.

To top off the week celebrating local music, St. Louis Public Radio is  hosting a Tiny Desk STL Happy Hour this Thursday at Anew, the local rooftop venue above the Big Brothers and Big Sisters building in Grand Center.  The event will feature performances from Bruiser Queen and Kenny DeShields, two of the local favorites from this year's submissions.

We were pleased to see a range of different styles and musicians roll through our YouTube feed, from homespun guitar pop to full bands with horns, guitars, and more.

Over the next couple of days we’ll roll out interviews and samples of music from listener’s top favorites leading up to the Tiny Desk STL Happy Hour. We’ll start with eclectic rock act Monkh and the People and soul singer Roland Johnson.

Monkh and the People

Monkh and the People.
Credit Monkh and the People

The origin story:

Daniel "Monkh" Horrell started playing music after his brother handed him a guitar, hoping it would keep the young Horrell out of trouble.  Horrell’s elder brother had spent time in a "boys home," and, once released, became worried his younger brother would follow in his footsteps. 

Daniel, or "Monkh" as he is called, took to the instrument, and eventually the two brothers would play together in a heavy metal band.  The younger Horrell was musically omnivorous, and taught himself multiple styles of guitar – from classical to rock and jazz.  Horrell was accepted to the prestigious Berkeley College of Music but decided to stay in St. Louis to help take care of his daughter. 

Drawing on years of St. Louis music scene connections, Horrell recently put-together Monkh and The People, an eight-piece band featuring horns and traditional rock instrumentation.   The band will release a new EP on March 21.

The interview:

Lead vocalist and guitarist Monkh discusses how he came to play music and form the group Monkh and The People.

Tiny Desk Contest submission: 

Monkh’s song "Higher Vibration" encapsulates the musician's approach to making music.  Horrell intends his music to capture universal feelings and experiences shared by everyone. For him that “higher vibration” is love.  The song appears at the end of his new EP, after a number of songs meant to broadly address a variety of struggles people experience in the current social and political climate.  Horrell said “Higher Vibration” is both the album and the emotional struggle’s resolution and that love can provide the strength to work through difficult experiences and times.

Where you can follow the artist:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/monkhus/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Monkhus

Website: http://www.monkh.us/

Roland Johnson

Roland Johnson.
Credit Roland Johnson
Roland Johnson.

The origin story:

For more than four decades Roland Johnson has brought his particular blend of funk, soul and blues to the clubs and bars of St. Louis, especially in the Soulard neighborhood.  Johnson began singing in his kitchen with his mother, who taught the burgeoning vocalist various hymns and other gospel tunes. 

In his early teens, Johnson began to sing with vocal groups at local “sock hops” and teen dances.  It wasn’t long until older musicians recognized his vocal chops and brought him into established soul review shows organized around town that drew on the city’s long history of rock and soul music. 

For years Johnson has established himself as a trusted vocalist, able to improvise and roll with almost any musical set-up.

The interview:

Roland Johnson shares the story of how he went from singing hymns in the kitchen with his mom to performing at blues clubs in Soulard.

Tiny Desk Contest submission: 

Roland Johnson’s "Someone to Love" draws on the long tradition of first-person lovelorn soul songs.  The song was improvised by Johnson over a chord progression developed by Paul Niehaus IV and presented to Johnson in one day. 

According to Niehaus, Johnson’s long history as a vocalist allows him to develop melody without needing a huge amount of musical structure.  Johnson said the song aims to tap into that universal feeling of loneliness shared by anyone looking for love.   

Where you can follow the artist:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RolandJohnsonMusic/

Website: http://www.bluelotusrecordings.com/

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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