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Published on Jan 31, 2012
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From the beginning of her life to her current success as a creative musician, Esperanza Spalding has charted her own course. The young bassist/vocalist/composer was one of the biggest breakout stars of 2011—not just in jazz, but in all genres of music. Her receipt of the 2011 GRAMMY® for Best New Artist was unprecedented—the first time a jazz musician had won the award— but Spalding continues to make the unprecedented the norm.
Born in Portland, Oregon, Spalding grew up in a single-parent home and learned early lessons in the meaning of perseverance and moral character from the role model whom she holds in the highest regard to this day -- her mother.
But even with a rock-solid role model, school did not come easy to Spalding, although not for any lack of intellectual acumen. She was both blessed and cursed with a highly intuitive learning style that often put her at odds with the traditional education system. On top of that, she was shut in by a lengthy illness as a child, and as a result, was home-schooled for a significant portion of her elementary school years.
However, the one pursuit that made sense to Spalding from a very early age was music. At age four, after watching classical cellist Yo Yo Ma perform on an episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, the roadmap was suddenly very clear. "That was when I realized that I wanted to do something musical," she says. "It was definitely the thing that hipped me to the whole idea of music as a creative pursuit."