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Esperanza Spalding Wins Grammy for Best New Artist Over Justin Bieber

Esperanza Spalding accepting the Best New Artist award
Esperanza Spalding accepting the Best New Artist award
Associated Press

2011 marked the 53rd year of the Grammy Awards. The institution has see its share of hits and misses in its roster of recognition given each year, but continues to be a benchmark of musical talent.

This year saw the ceremony breaking new ground by honoring a jazz artist with the “Best New Artist” award. A first in the history of the Grammy Awards, as Spalding beat out Justin Bieber and rapper Drake for the Best New Artist.

While the bassist/singer/composer might not have the widespread recognition of a Bieber or the club cred of a Drake, this is far from an overnight sensation.

The young Esperanza was born in Portland, Oregon in 1984, in a neighborhood she describes as a "ghetto." As a single parent, her mother raised her and her brother, and passed along an interest in music. By age five, Esperanza was playing violin with the Chamber Music Society of Oregon, which she continued to do until age fifteen, leaving as a concertmaster. During a one-year scholarship, which she had won to The Northwest Academy, a prestigious performing arts school, she found her passion in the bass.

She is quoted as saying that discovering the bass for her was like, “waking up one day and realizing you’re in love with a co-worker.”

As a teenager, the young musician found herself writing lyrics and music while performing some vocal duties for a local indie pop group called Noise to Pretend.

Choosing to get her GED instead of completing high school, she managed to get a scholarship in the music program at the Portland State University. Encouraged by her teachers who recognized her talent, she enrolled and was accepted to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA.

A string of backing gigs allowed the burgeoning musician to tighten her live performance and endurance as well as tour much of the country as she completed her studies.

In 2005, Spalding received The Boston Jazz Society scholarship for outstanding musicianship. Immediately after graduating the same year, Esperanza was hired by the Berklee College of Music. At age 20, this made her one of the youngest professors in the institutions history.

Three solo albums and numerous collaborations later, it’s hardly fair to label Esperanza Spalding as a ‘New Artist’. Perhaps it is her chosen genre of jazz which eludes the spotlight (or more likely avoids the drama of it). Despite this, hipsters have been experiencing the smooth light vocals and warm bass lines of Spalding for years.

Hipsters like President Obama, who selected Esperanza Spalding to perform when he accepted his 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.

Her latest effort, 2010’s “Chamber Music Society” is the release that finally won her the acknowledgment of the Grammy’s. Considering her catalog of releases, the “Best New Artist” is more of a nod to her young age and rising success than any kind of announcement of her arrival on the music scene.

But a high visibility win like a Grammy, along with a highly anticipated follow-up due this year tentatively entitled, “Radio Music Society” will surely expose this shining young jazz talent to a much wider audience.

Commenting on her Grammy win, the humble artist sees her victory more in terms of what it might do for genre she loves. “Hopefully people will realize there's stuff going on in the jazz world they didn't know about," she said. "If they want to put their sights on the jazz world and discover more people, that would be great."