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If you like Esperanza Spalding's story, you might also like:
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Sheryl Crow,
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Esperanza Spalding
Esperanza Spalding
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Esperanza Spalding Biography

Singer, Songwriter and Jazz Bassist

Esperanza Spalding Date of birth: October 18, 1984

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  Esperanza Spalding

Esperanza Spalding Biography Photo
Esperanza Spalding was born in Portland, Oregon. Her parents separated when she was very young, and her mother raised Esperanza and her brother on her own in King, a Portland neighborhood that suffered from poverty and violence in the years when Esperanza was growing up. Despite the family's limited resources, Esperanza's mother encouraged free thinking and creative expression for her children and exposed them to a variety of cultural influences.

Esperanza fell in love with music at age four, after seeing the classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma perform on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Too small to hold the cello, she took up the violin. After a few violin lessons she was able to practice and study on her own. Her progress on her first instrument was extraordinary. The Portland community provided a number of opportunities for young people to participate in music ensembles and young Esperanza took advantage of them all. At age five she was playing with the Chamber Music Society of Oregon.

Esperanza Spalding Biography Photo
Over the next ten years, she learned guitar with her mother, taught herself piano, and experimented with the clarinet and oboe. By 15, she was concertmaster (lead violinist) with the Chamber Music Society and ready to pursue her original dream of playing the cello. By chance, she picked up an upright bass instead and fell in love with the giant of the string family. Even larger than the cello, the bass is usually the chosen instrument of tall men with long arms and big hands. At five-foot-six, Esperanza Spalding compensated for her smaller stature with an outsize talent and unrelenting commitment to music. She also took up the electric bass, and began writing songs, singing and leading a band in Portland rock clubs.

Easily bored in school, Esperanza was home schooled for much of her childhood. At 16, she passed the GED (general educational development tests) and received her high school diploma. Barely a year after taking up her chosen instrument, she won admission to the music program at Portland State University. At Portland State, she absorbed as much of the jazz tradition as possible. With the encouragement of her instructors, she transferred after a year to Boston's Berklee College of Music, where she completed her undergraduate degree in only three years. She also found opportunities to play with topflight jazz artists in the Boston area, who were quick to recognize her explosive talent. By the time she graduated at age 20, she was supporting herself with her music and was asked to teach at Berklee. She was the youngest instructor in the school's history.

Esperanza Spalding Biography Photo
Spalding toured and played with a host of well-known artists, including Joe Lovano, Patti Austin, Michel Camilo, Charlie Haden, Regina Carter, Pat Metheny, Dave Samuels, and many others, while heading her own jazz trio.

In 2006, Spalding recorded and released her first CD, Junjo. She followed it in 2008 with Esperanza, which displayed her expanding range as a composer, fusing straight-ahead jazz with soul and hip-hop sounds and the rich musical traditions of Cuba and Brazil. Spalding was not only playing acoustic and electric bass with imagination and an authority far beyond her years, she was also singing with grace and conviction in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

On the strength of its enthusiastic reviews in the jazz press, Esperanza flew to the top of Billboard magazine's contemporary jazz chart and remained on the list for over 70 weeks. Strong international sales helped it the best-selling album by a new jazz artist in many years.

In 2009 Esperanza Spalding was invited by President Barack Obama to perform at the White House and in Stockholm, Sweden, at the ceremony where the President received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Spalding followed the success of Esperanza with Chamber Music Society in August of 2010. The CD included eight of her original compositions as well as American and Brazilian standards. It was performed by Spalding's quartet, a string trio and guest vocalists including the Brazilian star Milton Nascimento. The album reached number one on Billboard's Contemporary Jazz chart, and Spalding received the 2011 Grammy Award for Best New Artist. In the half-century since the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences created the Grammy Award, Spalding was the first jazz musician to receive the New Artist award.

Esperanza Spalding Biography Photo
On the even more ambitious follow-up, Radio Music Society (2012), she played her own compositions alongside an eclectic selection of tunes by everyone from the Beach Boys to one of her heroes, jazz great Wayne Shorter. The personnel included her regular rhythm section -- drummer Terry Lynne Carrington and pianist Leo Genovese -- as well as longtime mentor Joe Lovano on saxophone, master drummer Jack DeJohnette and guest vocalists.

In the years since the release of Radio Music Society, she has collaborated with many of her musical heroes, not least saxophone legend Wayne Shorter, one of the founding fathers of the fusion movement in jazz. Today, Esperanza Spalding tours the world with an expanded ensemble like those she gathered in her Chamber Music and Radio Music recordings, combining the traditional and the experimental while exploring an ever-expanding universe of global music.

This page last revised on Oct 15, 2015 14:50 EDT
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