Esperanza Spalding

Esperanza Spalding Biography

Songwriter, Musician, Singer, Bassist (1984–)
Jazz great Esperanza Spalding is a Grammy Award-winning bassist, vocalist and songwriter known for albums like 'Esperanza' and 'Radio Music Society.'


Born on October 18, 1984 in Portland, Oregon, Esperanza Spalding studied violin and bass before joining the faculty of the Berklee College of Music. She released the acclaimed albums Junjo, Esperanza and Chamber Music Society before winning a Grammy in 2011 for Best New Artist, creating history. She released the more pop/soul-driven Radio Music Society in 2012, and has performed at the Oscars.  


Esperanza Spalding was born on October 18, 1984 in Portland, Oregon. Raised by her mom, Spalding was homeschooled for much of her childhood and, inspired by Yo-Yo Ma, taught herself how to play violin. She joined her home state’s Chamber Music Society as a youth, reaching a concertmaster position by her teens.

In high school, Spalding also began to learn how to play the double bass, opening the way to jazz forms and performing with the group Noise for Pretend. She earned her GED and attended Portland State University before making her way to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, earning her degree in three years and becoming part of the faculty at the age of 20. 

Debut Album

Spalding released her debut album Junjo on the Barcelona, Spain label Ayva in 2006. The primarily instrumental collection showcased Spalding’s compelling musicianship, along with that of Francisco Mela (drums) and Aruan Ortiz (piano). Her next album, Esperanza, came forth in 2008 on Heads Up Records. The offering featured Spalding on vocals as well and was a bestselling global chart-topper with nods to the Latin and African Diasporas, including Brazil, earning much fanfare from jazz fans and critics alike.

Grammy: Best New Artist

She followed up in two years with Chamber Music Society (2010), a regal affair with mostly original tunes penned by Spalding, as was the case with Esperanza. Spalding then made music history in 2011 by winning Best New Artist at the Grammys, becoming the first jazz artist to do so.

"The main way in which the Grammy has changed my life is that I keep getting asked how the Grammy has changed my life."

2012 saw the musician release Radio Music Society, a companion album to its predecessor. While Chamber’s orientation was around layered fusions of jazz and contemporary classical forms, Radio played with pop and soul music formats, as seen with single “Black Gold.” Both albums reached the top of the Billboard jazz charts.

Rich Collaborations

Esperanza Spaulding playing bass.

Spalding has already collaborated with many of jazz’s greatest, including Patti Austin, Michael Camilo, Quintino Cinalli, Leo Genovese, Herbie Hancock, Bobby McFerrin and Pat Metheny, among others. She was part of the all-women group led by drummer Terri Lyne Carrington for her 2011 album The Mosaic Project, which won a Grammy. As of 2014, Spalding herself has also won additional Grammys for Best Jazz Vocal Album (Radio Music Society) and for the song “City of Roses.”

Spalding had also released the song and video “We Are America,” with appearances made by Harry Belafonte and Janelle Monáe. The project calls for the closing of the U.S.’s Guantanamo Bay prison center. In March 2016, Spalding dropped her fifth album, a more experimental outing entitled Emily's D+Evolution.  

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