Esperanza Spalding (Esperanza Emily Spalding, born October 18, 1984) is an American jazz bassist, singer, songwriter, and composer. She is a native of Portland, Oregon. She began music professionally in her childhood, first as a violinist in the Chamber Music Society of Oregon at five. Subsequently, she self-taught and trained on several other instruments, including bass and guitar.
Her proficiency in music and performance earned her academic scholarships to Portland State University and the Berklee College of Music, both of which she attended, studying music. Her bodies of work have earned her accolades include four Grammy Awards, a Boston Music Award, and a Soul Train Music Award.
Her debut album, Junjo, was released in 2006 under the Spanish label Ayva Musica. Subsequently, she signed with an independent American label, Heads Up, under which self-titled 2007 album was released. Chamber Music Society, her third studio album, was a commercial success, charting at #34 on the Billboard 200. The album also won her the Best New Artist at the Grammys, and this was her first Grammy award and the first jazz artist to win the category. Her fourth studio album, “Radio Music Society,” saw further acclaim (2012) and earned the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album, as well as the track “City of Roses” winning for Best Arrangement, Instrument and Vocals.
For the next few years, Spalding performed as a supporting band player, before she released her fifth studio album, a funk rock-inspired album titled “Emily’s D+Evolution,” which was co-produced by Tony Visconti of Concord Records. The following year, she released another body of work “Exposure” which was limited to sell just 7,777 copies. Her sixth studio album “12 Little Spells” was released in 2019 and peaked at number one one Billboard’s Top Jazz Albums. Spalding was nominated for two Grammy Awards, winning in the Best Jazz Vocal Album category.
With her accomplishments and experience as a musician and performer, when Spalding is not writing and performing music, she is teaching. She has worked as an instructor, first at the Berklee College of Music when she was 20, and in 2017, she was appointed professor of the Practice of Music at Harvard University. In 2018, she received an honors doctorate in music from Berklee College of Music, her alma mater and served as commencement speaker at the ceremony.
According to Spalding, she was mentored by Thara Memory and she owe her influences to jazz bassists Ron Carter and Dave Holland—Carter for the orchestration of his playing and Holland for the way his compositional method which complements his personal style. She also described saxophone player Wayne Shorter, and singer-songwriter Milton Nascimento, as heroes. She has also noted her preference for the Brazilian music.
Away from music, Spalding has been involved in several charitable causes, the most notable being during her 2012 tour when she donated a portion of the proceeds from merchandise sales to Free the Slaves, a non-profit organization based in Washington D.C., and dedicated to combating human trafficking globally. In 2013, she performed a benefit for the American Music Program Pacific Crest Jazz Orchestra, a music program founded by her mentor, Thara Memory.
Spalding also is an advocate for parks and open spaces, and is a supporter of The Trust for Public Land.
Connect with Spalding on Instagram to learn more.