Notable Oregonians: Esperanza Spalding - Musician, Singer
Esperanza Spalding was born on October 18, 1984, to a single mother in Northeast Portland's King neighborhood. Growing up amid gang violence, Spalding quickly learned to focus on what was important to her. Watching Yo-Yo Ma playing a cello on television's "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" triggered a strong musical interest in Spalding at the age of five. In a 2002 interview with The Oregonian newspaper, she said of the cello: "It sounded beautiful, like a voice.... And you had to hug it, which appealed to me."
Considered a prodigy, she soon taught herself to play violin and earned a place in Portland's Chamber Music Society of Oregon youth program under violin teacher Dorothy McCormick. Spalding also picked up musical knowledge by going along with her mother to community college music classes. She became the concertmaster violinist for the youth orchestra at the age of 15. But by then, she had discovered that her true passion was for the double bass, an instrument rarely played by women in the jazz genre.
By the next year, Spalding made music a fulltime commitment. After completing her GED, she entered Portland State University on a scholarship to the music program. Meanwhile she performed with four bands on the Portland club circuit and was tutored by several prominent local jazz players such as Thara Memory and Darrell Grant. After transferring with a scholarship to the Berklee School of Music in Boston in 2002, Spalding graduated in 2005 and soon accepted a teaching position there. At age 20, she became the second youngest instructor in the history of the school.
Spalding released her debut album, Junjo, in 2006. A critic for the New York Times observed that "she can sing quietly, almost in a daydream." She followed up her 2008 album, Esperanza, with the Chamber Music Society in 2010. The album went on to top the U.S. contemporary jazz music charts, as did her next album, Radio Music Society in 2012.
Spalding won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 2011 and won Grammy Awards in 2013 and 2014. President Barack Obama personally selected her to perform at the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies in Oslo, Norway and she has performed several times at the White House.