From Portland Oregon, The City of Roses, as is the title of one of her songs, Esperanza Spalding was born in 1984 to a multicultural family. Her heritage is African-American, Welsh, Hispanic and Native American. She can also sing in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
She attributes her musical career to a moment when she was four years old watching classical cellist Yo Yo Ma perform on an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. “That was when I realized that I wanted to do something musical,” she states in her official biography. “It was definitely the thing that hipped me to the whole idea of music as a creative pursuit.”
Within a year, she had taught herself violin and played in The Chamber Music Society of Oregon. She was a part of the group until age 15, and during that time she discovered the bass and started playing other styles of music such as blues, funk, R&B, and hip-hop on the local scene in Portland. Also at age 15 was when she graduated from high school and became a music student at Portland State University.
A year into Portland State she was encouraged by her music teachers to apply to Berklee College of Music and got in. In addition to studying at Berklee, she also become one of the youngest instructors when she took a teaching position at age 20 in 2005.
In 2009, President Obama personally selected her to play at the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony, the year he won.
In 2011, she won the Grammy for Best New Artist, the first time a jazz musician had won that award, for her record Chamber Music Society. Drummer and Berklee alumni, Terri Lyne Carrington, was also the record.
Prior to Chamber Music Society her first major release, Esperanza (2008), was at the top of Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Chart and became the year’s best-selling album by a new jazz artists. Her first record Junjo (2206) was released on a Spanish record label, Ayva Music. She has won two more Grammy’s for her record Record Radio Music, in which she won Best Jazz Vocal Album and Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s).
Check out more of Esperanza Spalding’s music on our Jazz Appreciation Month playlist, and be sure to visit her website: esperanzaspalding.com