In the most surprising moment of the Grammys, the best new artist of 2011 wasn’t a teenage heartthrob. It wasn’t the young Canadian who saved hip-hop. No, according to the voting body of the 2011 Grammy Awards, the best new artist of the year was a young jazz musician named Esperanza Spalding.
Needless to say, many viewers of the awards show were shocked, a few more borderline pissed. Who is this unknown jazz musician who can make both Drake and Justin Bieber eat humble pie?
Esperanza Spalding is something of a jazz musician prodigy hailing from Portland, Oregon. At age 5 she was already playing violin with the Chamber Music Society of Oregon. She would go on to dabble in jazz guitar, oboe and the clarinet before settling in on her instrument of choice, the bass, around the age of 14. By 20 not only had Spalding graduated from the prestigious Berklee College of Music, she was also teaching there, becoming one of the youngest teachers in the school’s history.
WATCH NBC NEWS COVERAGE OF SPALDING’S WIN:
Sounds like a fair resume to win Best New Artist. With this win Spalding joins the likes of Alicia Keys, Norah Jones and John Legend — just a few of the past winners who have gone on to experience great success. However, even Spalding herself was shocked that she was taking the statuette home last night.
“I really didn’t think it was going to be me,” Spalding told MTV News after her win. “I was one of those [surprised] people…. It was so unexpected, that’s the truth.”
Drake and Bieber may have been the crowd favorites for this category, but that the award went to a young jazz musician is a good sign for the music industry and music lovers everywhere. Spalding’s win gives a breath of fresh air to an otherwise stale and formulaic mood in entertainment. She didn’t work any crazy fashion gimmicks to get to the Grammys; she didn’t have a big time celebrity endorsement introduce her to the world’s stage. Spalding came via her pure talent and passion, and it’s nice to know that people are still acknowledged and rewarded for their hard work and effort.
Let’s hope the music industry powers that be take note. There’s nothing wrong with cranking out pop music superstars, but there it is a disservice to culture when that’s the only type of artist that exists. Hopefully Spalding’s win will encourage execs to take risks and promote artists who have talent, not just star power. Bring something interesting to the cultural conversation — not just a Ke$ha to piggyback off of Lady Gaga’s album sales.
Does Esperanza Spalding’s win mean there will be more musical diversity at the Grammys next year? It’s too early to make a trend forecast, but it is a good sign. Though Spalding’s win may not spawn jazz resurgence, it does serve as a reminder to listeners everywhere that good music isn’t just determined by what’s played on your local top 40 station.