In the one true surprise at last night’s Grammy Awards, jazz singer and bassist Esperanza Spalding took home the award for Best New Artist, beating out Justin Bieber, Drake, Florence & The Machine, and Mumford & Sons. But who is she and where did she come from?
Spalding was born in Portland, OR in 1984. By the age of five, she was a self-taught violinist, already playing with the Chamber Music Society of Oregon. She picked up her signature instrument, the bass, at age 14. Though she’s very skilled at many other instruments, once she began playing bass, it became her sole focus.
Esperanza left school at age 16, got her GED, and enrolled the music program at Portland State University on a scholarship where she was the youngest bass player in the program. She later enrolled at the prestigious Berklee College of Music and received a full scholarship. Spalding became one of the youngest professors in the school’s history being brought on to teach immediately after graduating at age 20.
Though she won Best New Artist award, Spalding has released three albums over the course of her career, beginning with 2006’s Junjo. She began getting notoriety outside of jazz music circles with her 2008 release, Esperanza. Her latest album, Chamber Music Society, was released in 2010.
Spalding has also received co-signs from some of music’s most influential. The Roots asked Spalding to perform at their annual Roots Picnic in 2008. Prince asked Spalding to open for him on his recent string of shows in the New York City area. Spalding also paid tribute to Prince at the 2010 BET Awards, performing his song “If I Was Your Girlfriend” on the show.