Esperanza Spalding Wins Best New Artist Grammy

Bassist, composer, and vocalist Esperanza Spalding '05 scores a stunning upset at the 53rd Grammy Awards.
February 14, 2011

Making history as the first jazz musician to capture the Best New Artist Grammy, bassist, vocalist, and composer Esperanza Spalding '05 earned the coveted honor on Feb. 13, edging out higher profile artists Justin Bieber, Florence & the Machine, Drake, and Mumford & Sons. This marks the second time a Berklee alumna was recognized with this award; Paula Cole '90 was the recipient in 1997.

Among several other Berklee alumni to win Grammys this year, Spalding is keeping good company, bringing the college alumni's cumulative Grammy honors to over 200.

"I can hardly express what a surprise and thrill it was Sunday night to receive my first Grammy," says Spalding. "I am still overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude for all of the people who believed in my music and who voted for me. This is a truly inspiring moment!"

Spalding recognized the significance of winning the award as a jazz artist. "We all know that jazz artists aren't typically nominated in this category, so that alone is special about the award this year," she says. 

Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Spalding was first inspired to pursue music after seeing Yo-Yo Ma perform on Mister Roger's Neighborhood at the age of 5. She learned classical violin for a decade before discovering the bass at 15, and started making her mark as a working musician before coming to Berklee, where she began exploring her own signature sound. She's collaborated with the likes of Patti Austin, Prince, Herbie Hancock, and Stevie Wonder, and performed at the White House, earning accolades from President Barack Obama. Berklee's president Roger H. Brown told Down Beat magazine that Spalding "incorporates her voice with her instrument in a way in which neither is the accompanist."

Spalding is hopeful that the spotlight of her win will cast an awareness on the scope of jazz. "Someone who saw the telecast and says, 'Esperanza who?' might go and check out my record. Well, the next record they thumb through in the 'S's in the jazz section will be completely different. That's what makes this music so exciting, and I bet people who don't consider themselves jazz lovers would love a lot of what's happening right now if they just got a chance to hear it—which would, of course, require the music and artists to get some more publicity. So may this bright moment for me also be a bright moment for my colleagues."

Read Spalding's former Berklee teachers' memories of her student days at Berklee Blogs.


Interview with Esperanza Spalding



Student profile (2004)



Spalding performs in a 2009 White House tribute to Stevie Wonder.




Spalding performs on Austin City Limits in 2009.



After Spalding made her first appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman, the host called her, "The coolest person we've ever had on the show."