Who is Esperanza Spalding? Jazz singer talks surprise Best New Artist Grammy nomination, being friends with Prince, and more

Esperanza-SpaldingImage Credit: Sandrine LeeIt was late Wednesday night when Esperanza Spalding‘s cell phone began buzzing. “Everybody and their mother-law started texting me and saying, ‘Oh my God!'” says the jazz bassist-singer, 26. They were congratulating her for scoring a Best New Artist nomination in this year’s Grammy race. “I certainly did not expect to even be considered for that type of nomination, me being a little old jazz musician and everything.”

Spalding is both pleased and bemused by the attention. “I mean, for jazz musicians, usually the recognition comes from your peers,” she says. “If someone that you really respect artistically likes your record, that’s all the award you need. But it is meaningful, and I don’t want to act like it’s nothing, that someone outside of my little jazz circle knows about me and wanted to acknowledge me.”

Her fellow nominees this year are Drake, Justin Bieber, Florence + the Machine, and Mumford & Sons. Although Spalding is only well versed in one of those artists’ music (“I think Drake is really incredible”), she’s no snob. “A lot of musicians who consider themselves intellectual artists sometimes look down their noses at people who have a lot of commercial success,” she notes. “They don’t remember how much really hard work it is to be a commercially successful entertainer. So even if I’m not familiar with their music, I respect their hard work. Now I have to go check them out some more.”

The Grammys exposure should help Spalding with her next project, a more mainstream-oriented album called Radio Music Society. “I want to take a lot of the players that I know that are really phenomenal jazz musicians right now, put them in these songs, and format it in a way that will end up on the radio without compromising the soul and the core of improvised music,” she says. She is currently writing music for that album with an eye toward releasing it in late 2011.

Spalding is also preparing to support Prince, whom she calls “a dear friend,” on his “Welcome 2 America” tour starting later this month. “Anything I do with Prince is always a blast, whether it’s jamming in his basement or having a conversation about genetic biology,” she says. “I’m sure this will be no different. He’s a totally fun character and an incredible musician, and we’re just going to rock out and it’s going to be beautiful.”

Count it as just one more unusual honor for Spalding. If few jazz singers receive such prominent Grammy recognition, perhaps even fewer are pals with the Purple One. “Everybody knows the hype of who he is as an artist,” Spalding says. “But he also happens to be a really lovely person. He’s a really, really cool dude. If you ever got a chance to just sit and have a drink with him, you would be laughing and having a great time.”

(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)

More from EW.com:
Grammy nominations: 16 snubs and surprises
Five things the Grammy nominations got right…and wrong


Comments (7 total) Add your comment
  • Dee Jones

    Good for her! Saw her on the Prince tribute and she was really good. I don`t think she`ll win but this will give her alot more exposure.

  • go team

    Haven’t had a chance to here miss spalding looking forward to hearing her music.

  • Preston

    One thing I like about this new artist award, is that it exposes me to someone I’ve never heard of other that a more popular artist like Drake or Justin Bieber. I liked Florence and the Machine’s performance on the MTV Video Music Awards–very daring rock music. I like that someone took a chance at Esperanza Spaulding, liked her jazz music and nominated her. I plan to get her album soon. Her interview was very good!

  • Tracey Barrett

    Esperanza is a super talent with a flair that wil appeal to jazz lovers young and old. “Pona De Areia”, “I Know You Know” and “Precious” are just 3 of my favorites! This is a must have for everyone who loves jazz. Her lyrics are incredibly written!

  • Julia Loves

    What a talent and francedatingclub was great

  • mahmud

    Hi,I encourage you to look at different sites and see what they have to offer . If you look hard enough someone just might give you a chance to follow your dream. I found a new site that is in need of singers, dancers, public speakers, comedians, clowns, and all other types of entertainers. Since the site is new, there is not hundreds of people to compete with and they have jobS now. The site is tomhelmandpartners.info. They are looking for talent to perform on there websites. But also to work for private parties, join a band or work at many other places, even tv commercials. The site has a full time producer/director working with them, that has the connections to get the right people in the right places. So go to TOMHELMANDPARTNERS.INFO, and summit your video. I think a lot of people will get work from this site. Experience or not, they are looking for all talent. Don’t be afraid to give it a shot. You know the old saying be at the right place at the right time and you could get lucky. This site looks like the right place. Good Luck.

  • ThatFrenchGirl

    She is truly OUTSTANDING!!!! I’m glad the grammys noticed true talents instead of popularity. It would have been a joke if Justin (Biebar,beiber?) won, It was fair. So happy for her.

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