Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Post-Grammy Reflection

Esperanza Spalding receiving her Grammy award

Esperanza Spalding seemed as shocked as everyone else when she won Best New Artist at the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 13. Hands clutching her heart, a million-watt smile lighting up her face, she looked positively breathless for a moment, though she was quick to regain her characteristic composure. It would be an understatement to call Spalding the dark horse in her coveted category, which most handicappers had already called in favor of either Canadian teen-pop moppet Justin Bieber or Drake, the Canadian hip-hop/R&B Casanova. (The Anglo-rock-with-ampersand vote was presumably split between Florence & the Machine and Mumford & Sons.) And yet the 26-year-old bassist and vocalist had already been busy on Grammy Sunday, hosting the pre-show telecast with Bobby McFerrin-they opened the festivities with a version of Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance”-and accepting many awards on behalf of absentees.

In recent years she had opened for Prince at Madison Square Garden; been the subject of a fawning profile in the New Yorker; and performed at the White House and the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony by request of her nation’s president. Still, her victory was, in some ways, even more startling than Herbie Hancock’s Album of the Year win in 2008, for River: The Joni Letters. Because, well, that was Herbie on Joni. Whereas countless Grammy viewers quickly asked themselves, or spitefully caviled on their social media platforms, who the hell is Esperanza Spalding?

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.
Originally Published