The popular music culture expanded significantly when Esperanza Spalding, a home grown Portland musician won the Grammy for Best New Artist Sunday in Los Angeles.
Spalding, a jazz bassist, won the award over heavy favorite Justin Bieber, who has quickly become part of popular culture due to his own success within popular music.
Spalding, 26, has performed for President Barack Obama and even taught at the renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston, but is a virtual unknown among the general public due to her lack of radio airplay and trendy public appearances.
“I certainly did not expect to even be considered for that type of nomination,” Spalding posted on her web site Monday. “My being a little old jazz musician and everything.”
Spalding is the first jazz artist to win the Grammy award for Best New Artist. She thanked all of her friends in Portland during her acceptance speech in the nationally televised ceremony. She also performed during the show.
Spalding is scheduled to return to the Rose City and perform before a sold-out crowd at the Newmark Theater on Friday, Feb. 25, one day after teaching a one-day Masters class at Portland State University.
Spalding, who grew up in northeast Portland and attended King Elementary as a child, attended PSU for a year before moving to Boston to study and perform.
Along with her stylish Afro, she has earned a reputation for her depth of musical talent, which includes vocals and skill with the violin, oboe, clarinet, upright bass and bass guitar. She’s been active as an artist for the past 10 years.
Her third album, released independently in August, is Chamber Music Society.
Spalding was born into a single-parent household in Portland in 1984. She credits cellist Yo Yo Ma for inspiring her to learn the violin at age four after watching him perform on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
A year later, she landed a spot in The Chamber Music Society of Oregon, a community orchestra open to both children and adults. She studied at the Northwest Academy when PSU professor Hamilton Cheifetz encouraged her to enroll in the school’s music program. She was awarded a scholarship and enrolled at age 16. She studied at the school for a year before moving to Berklee College as a student. She became a teacher at the school at age 20.
“Even at 16 she was a very level-headed person with a strong sense of herself and purpose,” Darrell Grant, who teaches Jazz Improv at PSU, said Monday. “And while we loved having her here, we encouraged her to look at the East Coast, where she could be connected with the highest level of professional opportunities in Boston or New York.”
In 2008, Heads Up Internnational released her first album, Esperanza, and it remained atop Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz chart for 70 weeks. It also earned her appearances on the Late Show with David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Austin City Limits, and a performance at the White House.
Spalding won the JazzWeek Award for Record of the Year in 2009 and the Jazz Journalists Association’s 2009 Award for Up and Coming Artist of the Year. The success of Esperanza as well as Chamber Music Society and the numerous subtle, public appearances, earned her the Grammy nomination and historic win.
During her acceptance speech, she also thanked her mother as well as her teachers.
“Esperanza’s story highlights the strength of our music department in Jazz,” said Barbara Sestak, dean of fine and performing arts at PSU. “A lot of our students play in jazz venues throughout the city of Portland, and our jazz bands have had invitations to participate in festivals around the country.”
“We’re all very happy for her,” said Cheifetz.
Spalding also plans on some other performances while in town for Black History Month and the Portland Jazz Festival. For more information, visit her web site, esperanzaspalding.com.