Who Is Esperanza Spalding?
Esperanza Spalding with her first Grammy.
In the days leading up to Sunday night’s Grammy Awards at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, there were plenty of categories in which no clear favorite had emerged. One of the few exceptions was Best New Artist, with Justin Bieber the heavy favorite.
As presenters Jewel and John Legend took the stage, dozens of fingers hovered computers in the press box, poised to publish stories of Bieber’s latest conquest and first Grammy Award. But when the winner was announced, it wasn’t Bieber. A collective gasp seized the room, followed by a question: Who is Esperanza Spalding?
Efforts to determine the answer were stymied at first by the hordes of belligerent Bieber fans who ransacked Spalding’s Wikipedia page. Within an hour, though, the story became clearer as both Bieber and Spalding made separate appearances in the press room.
“I’m really happy for her,” said Bieber. “Hopefully she has a good year.”
But it was Spalding, not the tween heartthrob, who won over the small crowd. Sporting a hairdo whose volume could be topped only by Questlove of The Roots, she was beyond gracious when asked how she felt about beating Bieber.
“It doesn’t work like that,” she said calmly. “I didn’t beat him. We’re all colleagues. We’re all doing our things, respectively.”
A 26-year-old jazz musician, Spalding’s first instrument was violin, which she started playing at age five. That served as a springboard to the bass, now her primary instrument. Home-schooled for most of her youth in Portland, Ore., Spalding received her GED at the age of 16 and briefly attended Portland State University before heading to Berklee School of Music in Boston.
By the time she was 20, she’d become an instructor – the youngest in Berklee’s history. Her eponymous album, Esperanza, hit stores in 2008 and spent 70 weeks atop Billboard’s contemporary jazz chart. Spalding’s accomplishments earned her invitations to the White House, as well as profiles in O, The Oprah Magazine and The New Yorker.
As for the business of being Esperanza, it’s only going to get better. Spalding was making a nice living even before her Grammy victory, grossing $20,000 a night while playing to crowds of 600 or so, according to Pollstar Pro. Assuming a standard split, that’s about $5,000-$7,000 in take-home pay – nowhere near Bieber money, but not shabby – and certain to see a post-Grammy boost.
Before she left the room, she smiled and admitted that she and Bieber had at least one thing in common.
“He has great hair,” she said. “I have great hair.”