AMERICAN JAZZ BASSIST
Born in Portland, Oregon on the 18th of October 1984, American jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding was born to a mixed-race household. Her father was African-American, and her mother was of Native American, Welsh, and Hispanic descent. The young girl didn’t exactly grow up poor, but her family lived in an area that was prone to gang violence. Esperanza’s brother raised the girl and her brother as a single parent.
Much of Spalding’s childhood was spent being homeschooled by her mother. It was during this time when she started picking up some musical training, listening to her mother study jazz guitar. She would even accompany her mother to music classes, where she’d sit under the piano and try to play the music she heard by ear.
Eventually, these moments would bear fruit. Spalding’s mother discovered the young girl’s skill when she was able to play Beethoven by ear on the family piano at a young age. In addition, Spalding also credits watching cellist Yo-Yo Ma play on the TV show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as another inspiration to pursue music. She trained until she was skilled enough to be good at the violin and play with the Chamber Music Society of Oregon. Eventually, she would pick up the double bass while studying at Northwest Academy.
After dropping out of Northwest, Spalding decided to focus on the double bass. Upon completing her GED, she decided to audition for the Berklee College of Music and eventually got a full-ride scholarship. There, Berklee Executive Vice President Gary Burton noted Spalding’s talent: he noted her uncanny knack for staying confident even when reading the most complicated pieces, as well as her skill in making these pieces her own whenever she plays them.
This skill and unbridled talent led her to release her debut album, titled Junjo, in 2006. Two years later, she released a self-titled album called Esperanza. She would keep focusing on her material, and it bore fruit a few years later. Her album Radio Music Society gave her her first Grammy Award in 2012 for the best jazz vocal album. It was also nominated for the best long-form music video.
She would win another Grammy with 12 Little Spells, which was released in 2018, and another one in 2013 for her work on City Of Roses as an instrumental arranger and accompanying vocalist. Aside from her Grammy winnings, she would also receive the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award, the Soul Train Music Award, and Jazz Artist of The Year in 2011 courtesy of the Boston Music Awards. She even appeared in a film, Love Beats Rhymes, in 2017.
Did You Know?
As a child, Spalding suffered from juvenile idiopathic arthritis, which is a relatively rare condition that affects about one in every 1000 births. This was the main reason why she was mostly homeschooled during her early years.
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