Who in the world is Esperanza Spalding? She has performed for President Barack Obama, with jazz legends like Herbie Hancock — even before thousands of eager Prince fans.
But the acclaimed jazz singer and bassist was thrust onto the biggest stage of her life Sunday as she captured the best new artist trophy at the Grammy Awards, making history in the process. The 26-year-old Portland, Ore., native became the first jazz artist to win the award in a stunner that saw her defeat heavy favorite Justin Bieber.
"I feel really lucky that I got to be acknowledged on this stage in front of so many people who hopefully will get to experience my music, and I got there by doing what's really dear to my heart," said Spalding backstage after her win.
You could say Spalding is the jazz world's Bieber: a young sensation who has been a top-seller in the genre, and with amazing hair, usually worn in a huge Afro. Her talents are deep: she's also a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer and arranger; was the youngest instructor at the renowned Berklee College of Music; and counts Prince as one of her musical mentors.
Her latest album, Chamber Music Society, blended her classical background with her jazz material. She had hoped for a nomination in the jazz categories and was surprised with the best new artist nomination.
Spalding said her Grammy win was just the beginning in what she hoped would be a rich, long career in jazz.
"In the world I come from, this is the beginning of the beginning. I'm 26 … people (in jazz) are more older than me, and they're still ascending," she said.
The Grammys exposure should help Spalding with her next album, a more mainstream-oriented project called Radio Music Society.
"I want to take a lot of the players that I know that are really phenomenal jazz musicians right now, put them in these songs, and format it in a way that will end up on the radio without compromising the soul and the core of improvised music," she told Entertainment Weekly. She is currently writing music for that album with an eye toward releasing it in late 2011.
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Some big-name 2011 Grammy winners are coming to Tampa Bay in the next few months. They include Lady Antebellum (March 13 at the Florida Strawberry Festival); Lady Gaga (April 16 at the St. Pete Times Forum); Iron Maiden (April 17 at the St. Pete Times Forum) and Keith Urban (June 18 at the St. Pete Times Forum.) Tickets for Urban's show go on sale Saturday.
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The Grammys hit a high note in the ratings Sunday night, drawing the show's biggest TV audience in a decade with 26.6 million viewers.
This reports contains material from the Associated Press and Entertainment Weekly.