Esperanza Spalding: Who is the surprise Best New Artist?

Esperanza-SpaldingImage Credit: Sandrine LeeFor Esperanza Spalding, the jazz bassist-singer named Best New Artist at Sunday’s Grammys (much to the shock of Justin Bieber fans, some of whom attacked Spalding’s Wikipedia page in protest), just being in the category was an honor. “I certainly did not expect to even be considered for that type of nomination, me being a little old jazz musician and everything,” she told EW in December after the nominees were announced. “Everybody and their mother-law started texting me and saying, ‘Oh my God!'”

Spalding was both pleased and bemused by the attention. “I mean, for jazz musicians, usually the recognition comes from your peers,” she said. “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.”

She bested her fellow nominees, which included Bieber, Drake, 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 noted. “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 recently supported Prince, whom she calls “a dear friend,” on his “Welcome 2 America” tour. “Anything I do with Prince is always a blast, whether it’s jamming in his basement or having a conversation about genetic biology,” she said before joining him in December. “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.”

Spalding is on the road herself now, playing four nights at Blue Note Tokyo starting Wednesday, before returning for a string U.S. dates later this month and heading abroad again in March.

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

More on the Grammys:
Esperanza Spalding discusses her win backstage at the Grammys
What was Grammys biggest surprise?
16 Grammy performers graded
Grammy fashion
Music Mix Grammy coverage

Comments (124 total) Add your comment
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  • Rusty Shackelford

    Best New Artist award is a curse

    • DW

      By and large, yes. The few recent exceptions who come to mind are Maroon 5, Sheryl Crow and Mariah Carey. If you go back a little farther, you can add Bette Midler, Carly Simon, The Carpenters and The Beatles to the list. But for everyone one of them, there’s several Milli Vanillis!

      • Rusty Shackelford

        I agree, a few did break out and continued on to prosperous careers, but many more did not.

      • tomm

        Culture Club is another. Whilethey didn’t last, their songs are still played on many “80’s Retro” radio formats.

      • Mark

        Eh, I’m not as sure about the curse. A lot of the BNA winners are, by design, niche artists. It’s not a surprise that a lot of them didn’t blow up in the mainstream. But most of them continue to do well in their own arenas.

      • Allison

        Christina Aguilera too. While she hasn’t had the best track record of late, she still went on to make a great name for herself after her Best New Artist win.

      • RT

        Best New Artist/Kiss of Death Award

        A Taste of Honey
        Starland Vocal Band
        Debbie Boone
        Christopher Cross
        Men at Work
        Culture Club
        Cyndi Lauper
        Marc Cohn
        Arrested Development
        Paula Cole
        Hootie and the Blowfish
        Milli Vanilli

        Then there was the time Shelby Lynn won for her SEVENTH album and now Esperanza Spalding wins for her THIRD album.

        Always ahead of the curve, those Grammys.

      • Alice

        Alicia Keys, John Legend, and Carrie Underwood have all done extremely well since they won the Best New Artist Award.

    • jared

      Yep! I was just about to say the same thing, Rusty! It’s probably better for Beliebers that the Biebs didn’t win.

      • dee dee1

        It was Bieber’s year to get the award. Not that he needs it, but admit the kid had a great year. He’ll continue to do great with or without the awards.

    • Right

      Tell that to Carrie Underwood.

      • Rusty Shackelford

        or Paula Cole

    • PrincessBride

      I had to explain “Starland Vocal Band” to my daughter. However, this woman appears much more deserving of the honor than the folks who inflicted “Afternoon Delight” on the world.

    • dlauthor

      The last 15 years of this award:

      2010: Zac Brown Band
      2009: Adele
      2008: Amy Winehouse
      2007: Carrie Underwood
      2006: John Legend
      2005: Maroon 5
      2004: Evanescence
      2003: Norah Jones
      2002: Alicia Keys
      2001: Shelby Lynne
      2000: Christina Aguilera
      1999: Lauryn Hill
      1998: Paula Cole
      1997: LeAnn Rimes
      1996: Hootie and the Blowfish
      1995: Sheryl Crow

      Yeah, that’s a bunch of people who just vanished without a ripple, isn’t it? I mean, who ARE those people?

      • Rashida

        by far my favorite comment of the day lmao

      • fancypants

        thank you!

      • fancypants

        and oh yea: THE BEATLES won Best New Artist in 1965! But they’re random nobodies I guess.

      • Alissa

        Honestly, Zac Brown Band, Adele, Amy Winehouse, John Legend, Evanescence, Norah Jones, Shelby Lynne, Lauryn Hill, Paula Cole, and LeAnn Rimes didn’t have particularly great careers. Most of them wear either barely known, or had one album that everyone raved over before fading into the idea of “oh yeah, I forgot about that person.”

        even people like Sheryl Crow and Aguilera and Underwood haven’t had great careers in the last couple of years. Underwood has had success in country, but it hasn’t really been mainstream outside of Before He Cheats. so…while I’ve HEARD of the majority of those people, it’s not really saying much that most of them have not had much in the way of longevity.

        and YES, The Beatles won. a million years ago.

      • Alissa

        ahem. were, not wear.

      • jared

        Yeah this list is 50% people who haven’t put out a record in years, or whose records have failed to sell a substantial amount of copies.

      • Ann

        you people are all idiots! Adele, John Legend, Alica Keys.. Just to name a few from that list are all stars! Esperanza is a star and has been for a while. She just legitimized not only that award, but the Grammy’s as a whole.

      • JB

        Awesome. Shut them up.

      • True Blue

        Alissa, the Zac Brown band are still successful (they were nominated for a Grammy this year), Adele just put out her sophomore album that went to number one in several countries, Amy Winehouse hasn’t faded into obscurity due to public disinterest, she’s been strugglng with addiction which is why she’s yet to put out a new album, John Legend is still very much relevant as he’s put out two more successful albums, and one with The Roots which was critically acclaimed AND Grammy nominated, Evanescence’s second album “The Open Door” was commercially successful, Lauryn Hill has not put out any new material since Miseducation, yet that album is considered to be an all-time classic, and Norah Jones, Shelby Lynne and
        Paula Cole are all niche artists. They were never mainstream artists to begin, and they wouldn’t be after winning a Grammy as well. Sheryl Crow and Christina Aguilera may not be so hot as of late, but you can’t discount the fact that they’ve been successful for 90% of their lengthy careers. So you failed at trying to make it seem like all those artists are cursed.

      • ns

        I don’t think the “curse” really applies to Spalding. A lot of the past winners were flashes in the pan who got best new artist because of one big hit. Spalding won even though she’s never had any hits. I can’t see how this can be anything but a plus for her.

      • Alissa

        @True Blue I wasn’t saying I agreed with a curse, I’m just saying that the Grammy’s aren’t exactly…useful with keeping with what’s relevant. Which is why you boasting that ZBB and John Legend got nominated for a Grammy means about as much as the fact that Streisand sang – just because they were recognized doesn’t make them relevant. My point was, very simply, that for an event that is supposed to recognize success in music, the people they pick are not particularly successful. I wasn’t even mentioning the fact that Spalding can hardly be considered a new artist, nor one that’s made an impact in the music scene this year. She’s on her third album and 90% of people haven’t heard of her. She’s neither Best, nor New. I’m sure she’s an excellent musician and very happy about the win, but useless award is useless.

      • erin

        Alissa, the Grammys are (supposed to) award EXCELLENCE in recorded music, not “success” (read: money-making).

      • Adam

        Alissa, Norah Jones is one of the best selling recording artists of the last decade. All of her albums have reached platinum status and have been critically acclaimed. She has sold over 39 million albums worldwide. Honestly, check your facts before you go around saying she doesn’t have a great career. She has an amazing career.

    • Bluto

      She’s that girl who won something at the Grammys one year—I think her name is Macy Gray.

  • gah

    beiber lost. deal with it.

    • DW

      I’m sure there were many juice boxes thrown at TV sets on Sunday night!

  • Ap

    I immediately Googled her once she won. I’m sure her album sales will see a huge jump from this. I’ll definitely have a listen.

    • Rusty Shackelford

      And will never be heard from again.

      • fancypants

        Yea like The Beatles, Norah Jones, Alicia Keys, Christina Aguilera and Amy Winehouse (to name a few) have also never been heard from again. You wish. Why not just wish Esperanza success and keep it moving? Are you a bitter “Bleiber”??

  • MWC

    She’ll still be making jazz albums when Justin Bieber is starring on Celebrity Rehab.

    • jared

      …that no one will buy. (See: Cyndi Lauper)

      • Esteban

        Actually, she’s pretty revered on the hip-hop circuit, she’s done Austin City Limits twice, and she was on a campus tour last year that had her play in every state, and on about 120 different spots.

        She’s already created a pretty good name for herself all without radio play, except that 30 minute piece NPR did on her.

      • Esteban

        if you heard her music, you’d realize how dumb the cyndi lauper reference is.

      • TruthHurts

        As in “nobody who listens to music other than what they are told to listen to” would buy.

      • jared

        Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure she’s great and that she’s making better quality records that Bieber, but the “Best New Artist” award DOES NOT necessarily guarantee future success.

  • Emoney

    I’ve never heard of her, which makes me all the happier that she won. I like to see an award actually reward artistry, and had it gone to Bieber, well…

  • bieber sucks

    Brilliant artist, smart lady, deserved to win. Bieber shouldn’t even have been nominated.

  • GWS

    Simon, you’re back! Don’t ever leave like that again. I’ve been missing your always valuable/credible musical opinion over the last few weeks.

  • Rusty Shackelford

    Doesn’t matter, she may be better musically, but Beiber rakes in the bucks, and isn’t that what it’s all about.

    • Esteban

      whoring yourself out?

      • Rusty Shackelford

        Why is making money whoring yourself out? Isn’t that why they get into the business. If it was just for the love of music, they can stand at a street corner and play.

      • tomm

        Totally agree, why should ‘true, pure’ musicians rely on Gov’t Hand outs?

      • Esteban

        Well she was classically trained on bass, was going to Berkley’s music program at 16, and carried her upright bass on her back to school.

        That’s why you get into music. If music only consisted of those that were “raking in the bucks” I wouldn’t even waste my time with following it.

        If you think she’s not going to be in music 15 years from now, you’re crazy. If she’s not still recording, she’ll be playing in an orchestra, or with some of her fellow artists.

        Girl isn’t going to starve.

        By that time, Bieber will be looking back and saying, “god, I made some terrible sounding music, but the ladies liked it, so that makes me a…… whore.”

      • Nance

        Esteban, that’s Berklee College of music in Boston, not UC Berkeley.

      • Esteban

        word up.

    • Rooney72

      Apparently, that’s NOT what it’s all about. By cynical all you want, this time artistry won.

      • Rusty Shackelford

        Keep being naive, I bet she isn’t making her albums for free.

      • dm

        AMEN, Rooney72!! I typically don’t pay much attention to the Grammys but was THRILLED to see a true musician & true artist win this award. Beiber will go the way of David Cassidy, Donny Osmond, etc. But brilliant, timeless music lasts forever.

      • Yo

        You work for Bank of America, Rusty? Many, many people chose work for its pleasure or intrinsic value or for love of it.

    • Aly

      That’s what the (pointless, surprise-free) Billboard Music Awards are about.

  • nana

    This chick seems dope, I’ll definitely be checking her out. And as far as the losers go, get over it. You’re all still making millions and have millions of fans. You’ll be fine.

  • zken

    Finally recognition to someone beyond buble gum pop—a real artist gets an award and all the teeny boppers get outraged! Wow- I am outraged that most of the so called music on the Grammy show was a lot of noise and that we have to watch someone like Lady GAGA who makes anyone with ears gag.

  • Darrin Searancke

    I’m going to buy her album on iTunes right now – something I would NEVER consider fro JBieber …

    • Larry David

      So you’re a slave to what the award shows tell you…lol

  • john

    Actually, she’s not a new artist. She’s recorded 3 cds. The cd that should have won–at least a jazz Grammy if not best new artist–is Junjo, which she recorded about 5 years ago. But since everybody slept on that one, I guess she should finally get her due. And yes we definitely will hear from her again soon. Her unusual ability to warmly scat while playing bass is exceptional. And we’ll hear from her because of all of the hype following the award. But even without that, her status as a professor at Berklee, the training ground of many up and coming professional jazz musicians, ensures that she’ll remain an influential artist.

    Her gain shouldn’t be seen as Justin’s loss. He’ll have more than enough hype, perhaps even a gain from his loss(?), without the award.

  • Barry Bojin

    Maybe with the Grammy win she could get some Singing Lessons and a Hair Cut… Drake is far more talented than this young lady, but I guess since she sings “Jazz” and NOBODY LISTENS TO IT ANYMORE…ASK Harry Connick Jr… they have to make it “Come Back” somehow…LMAO

    • Right

      This is a stereotypical comment made by youth. It’s just sad.

      • Esteban

        it’s like eating McDonald’s everyday.

    • TruthHurts

      Barry, I pity you and whoever has to listen to whatever it is that you consider “music”.

  • Sachab28

    Her album is GREAT. I heard of her in 2009 & downloaded her 1st album. Its definitely a keeper.

  • ia

    Hey, EW…ESPERANZA SPALDING did not have an “unsual” win at the GRAMMYs last night. Ms. SPALDING is a talented jazz musician who hails from Oregon where I lived for many years. She is terrific. So much more talented than that pip-squeak who’s moniker is “Bieber Fever.” And she has PRINCE as one of her biggest fans…now that’s classy! Ms. SPALDING, I salute you on your GRAMMY win as Best New Artist. Take it to the bank, honey! You have arrived! Keep on doing your jazz thing!

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