Sunday, March 4, 2012

137: The Self-Empowered Woman: Esperanza Spalding

Dear Followers,

If you watched last week's Academy Award Ceremony, you saw Esperanza Spalding sing "What a Wonderful World," but her musical talent goes far beyond her unusual vocal artistry; she sings in English, Portugese and Spanish. Raised in Portland, Oregon (where I was born), Spalding's mother was Hispanic, Native American and Welsh and her father was Black. Esperanza and her brother were raised by their single-parent mother (1: No Paternal Safety Net), who encouraged her daughter's love of music.

When she was only four years old, she saw the cellist Yo-Yo Ma perform on an episode of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, and credits that exposure as the inspiration for her life in music (2: An Early Sense of Direction). The following year, she had taught herself to play the violin, and by the time she was eight she had paid such close attention to her mother's guitar lessons that, in her words, "I would sit under the teacher's piano. Then I would come home and I would be playing her stuff that her teacher had been playing." Esperanza also played the oboe and clarinet. In high school, she discovered the bass during a one-year stint (at age 14) at the prestigious performing arts high school, The Northwest Academy. She loved the bass, and played her first gig at a blues club when she was only 15 (9: Music).

Esperanza was invited to join the band's rehearsals, and soon she was joining them for regular performances. She credits these musicians with fostering her sense of rhythm, nurturing her interest in the bass, helping her stretch as a musician, as well as reach and grow beyond her musical experience (4: Supportive Someone).

She played with the Chamber Music Society of Oregon until she was 15 years old, and left as concertmaster. At 16, she left high school (11: Risk Addiction), received her GED, and became the youngest bass player in the music program at Portland State University; she received her B.A. in only three years. Her bass teacher encouraged her to apply to Berklee College of Music, and her audition was so impressive that she was given the Boston Jazz Society Scholarship. At age 20 (13: More Than Meets the Eye), she became one of the youngest professors in Berklee's history.

Her jazz albums have become international best sellers, she performed at the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Concert when President Obama received his award. In 2011, she became the first bass player to win a Grammy Award; she won for Best New Artist (when everyone else thought Justin Bieber would win). She has accomplished all this, and she is only 27 years old!

Looking forward to your comments...

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