Our love and respect to Esperanza Spalding

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

By Yvonne Tran
Esperanza winning the Grammy
for Best New Artist

When I was in high school, I remember being glued to the television screen when the GRAMMYs or Oscars came on. I would see all the grand performances, snazzy outifts, and best new artist or best motion picture for that year. I felt like I was in the know of what was considered good "art."  Ten years later, it's apparent to me that neither of these award shows are an indication of good art or bad art. It is an indication of what is popular this year and what is not.

But sometimes, a gem peaks through the sand that is pop culture.

This year's gem is Esperanza Spalding. She is a 26 year-old jazz singer and musician that plays multiple instruments and was the youngest Professor at Berklee College of Music, at age 20. Further exploration of her resume will probably leave you even more awestruck.

Behind her talent, her lovely face, and her new Grammy, lies a young woman who's very existence in the popular music world was unlikely. Spalding was raised by her mom in a predominantly low-income neighborhood in Portland, OR. She dropped out of high school at 16 to get her GED and landed in the music program at Portland state as one of the youngest members. She later auditioned and got into Berklee College of Music with a merit-based full ride. Despite her ambitions and her musical gifts, she couldn't afford to buy the plane tickets and get settled in Boston. She almost dropped out of Berklee due to financial constraints. Struggles like hers are rarely honored on a national scale and definitely not for poor women of color.

So today, I want to honor her struggle to work hard toward her dreams and be recognized as the talented artist that she is.

You may have  heard that when she won the award, beating out Justin Bieber among others, her wiki page was attacked by Bieber fanatics.  They added racist, mean, hateful words to her page.  For excellent coverage, see the piece on Colorlines.

And even with all the drama of the Grammy upset, that the Academy choose her over Drake and Justin Bieber, thus making her the first Jazz artist to receive this award, she said,  
When this is all over, we’re all colleagues again, just like we were before. He sold more records than me. We’re doing our thing in our respective fields. He’s unquestionably a talented man. What can I say? I didn’t beat him. I’m taking that thing home. He has great hair, and I have great hair.
With a good sense of humor and humility. Just as we hope for in all of our talented artists.

I'll end with a quote that I found pretty poignant that illustrated how I felt when I newly discovered Esperanza Spalding, from an unnamed YouTube commentor on her performance at the White House:
When I heard Esperanza's name at the GRAMMYs, I wondered where did she come from? After I researched her, I realized the actual question "is where have I been?"

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