Esperanza Spalding is an American jazz bassist, cellist and singer, who draws upon many genres in her own compositions.
She has won three Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Award for Best New Artist at the 53rd Grammy Awards, making her the first – and only – jazz artist to win the award.
Spalding was born and raised on what she calls “the other side of the tracks” in a multi-lingual household and neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. Growing up in a single-parent home amid economically adverse circumstances, she learned early lessons in the meaning of perseverance and moral character from the role model whom she holds in the highest regard to this day – her mother.
At age four, after watching classical cellist Yo Yo Ma perform on an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the roadmap was suddenly very clear. “That was when I realized that I wanted to do something musical,” she says. “It was definitely the thing that hipped me to the whole idea of music as a creative pursuit.”
Within a year, she had essentially taught herself to play the violin well enough to land a spot in The Chamber Music Society of Oregon, a community orchestra that was open to both children and adult musicians. She stayed with the group for ten years, and by age 15, she had been elevated to a concertmaster position.
Spalding’s journey as a solo artist began with the May 2008 release of Esperanza, her debut recording for Heads Up International, a division of Concord Music Group, which went on to become the best selling album by a new jazz artist internationally in 2008. The highly acclaimed release was the first opportunity for a worldwide audience to witness her mesmerizing talents as an instrumentalist, vocalist and composer. The New York Times raved, “Esperanza has got a lot: accomplished jazz improvisation, funk, scat singing, Brazilian vernacular rhythm and vocals in English, Portuguese and Spanish. At its center is a female bassist, singer and bandleader, one whose talent is beyond question.”