15 February 2011

Who is Esperanza Spalding?

If you've started the day wondering just who on earth Esperanza Spalding is, you're not alone.

The 26-year-old jazz bassist and singer bounded into the spotlight at the Grammys Sunday night when she beat out Justin Bieber to win the best new artist award. On Twitter, Bieber fans erupted, demanding to know how a relatively under-the-radar artist could beat the teen pop sensation of the moment, along with fellow high-profile nominees Drake and Florence & the Machine. (The folk rock band Mumford & Sons was also nominated.) Bieber devotees vandalized Spalding's Wikipedia page, at one point writing, "WHO THE HECK ARE YOU ANYWAY?"

The answer: a musical prodigy with credentials, critical acclaim and famous fans. Below, ten things to know about Spalding:

President Obama sings her praises. She's headlined multiple performances for him, one following his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 2009, marking the first time jazz was played at the ceremony instead of classical music.
Born in Portland, Oregon in 1984, Spalding is of African-American, Welsh and Spanish descent.

Spalding taught herself how to play the violin at the age of four and joined the Chamber Music Society of Oregon at age five. She dabbled at the guitar, oboe and clarinet before settling on the double bass at age 16.

At age 20, she became the youngest-ever faculty member at the prestigious Berklee College of Music.
She's rocked with icons. Spalding performed a jazz version of "If I Was Your Girlfriend" for Prince at the BET Awards in June.

She's not Hollywood. Spalding shuns celebrity stylists for vintage fashions. "I would like to have a stylist, but it's tricky: it has to be free from the trends," she told The New York Times in October. "Otherwise people don't really see you. They see how close or how far you are from the look you're going for."

While she won the best new artist award this year, she's been around for a while. "Esperanza," her 2008 album, spent more than 70 weeks on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz chart and was the most successful internationally selling debut that year. She recorded her first album, "Junjo," in 2006.




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