In 2011 at the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards, there were two very significant surprises when the award winners were announced. Arcade Fire won for Album of the Year, becoming the first indie act to do so, and Portland born jazz bassist, cellist and singer Esperanza Spalding won the Grammy Award for the Best New Artist, beating out Drake, Justin Bieber, Mumford & Sons and Florence & The Machine. Spalding was the first jazz artist to win the award since it was first handed out in 1960.
Born to an African American father and a mother of Welsh, Native American and Hispanic descent, Spalding was a child prodigy at five when she taught herself how to play violin, followed by oboe, clarinet and double bass. A graduate of the Berklee School of Music, she debuted in 2006 and has released four albums including the most recent Radio Music Society which won a Grammy Award for Best Jazz vocal album. Spalding is a world class musician and has a singular musical voice. She can work within and between muscial styles including blues, soul, funk, hip-hop, jazz fusion, Afro-Cuban and Brazilian styles. With so much stylistic talent, Spalding defies any and all expectations of what jazz music is and should be.
Read more in our Twenty Black Voices for a New Century series here.