Esperanza Spalding: Could this be her breakout year?

OPINION - Esperanza Spalding by far is one of the most interesting female voices out now, and her cross-over success could prove to be a boon for both jazz and pop music fans...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Could 2012 be Esperanza Spalding’s year? As she releases her fourth studio album, all signs point to a breakout year for the jazz musician.

When Esperanza Spalding won the best new artist Grammy in 2011, a collective scratching of heads could be heard around the world — who exactly was this bushy-haired woman with the contagious grin?

Apparently the masses were unaware of the depth of her talent, but the voting body of the Grammys saw star power in the young bassist who developed her considerable and eclectic skills at Berkeley College. Though she won for best new artist, Spalding was actually no stranger to the music industry, having released two albums prior to the nomination. Her third album, Chamber Music Society, was responsible for the Grammy recognition. Chamber Music Society displayed Spalding’s jazz range, especially drawing upon her love of Latin sounds and her talented ability to sing in Portuguese.

However with the exposure of her big Grammy win, Esperanza is aiming to leverage her newfound name recognition into a more radio-friendly sound with her fourth album, Radio Music Society.

“The benefit of the radio is, something beyond your realm of knowledge can surprise you, can enter your realm of knowledge,” Spalding told NPR. “Part of the premise of that stems from my concern about the accessibility of jazz, just how people can access it. If you don’t already know about jazz music, how would you be exposed? How would get an opportunity to find out if it spoke to you? If you get exposed to it enough, you might find a taste for it.”

This crusade to bring jazz to the masses manifests itself in an album with strong 70s roots, drawing from a time when jazz and pop music freely intermingled, and inspired by the works of artists like Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan and Wayne Shorter.

It’s this thoughtful approach to jazz and pop music that could add up to crossover success for Spalding. Every few years there is a jazz-inspired female voice that wins a mainstream audience — there’s fellow Best New Artist Grammy winner Norah Jones, and singer Corrine Bailey Rae, whose debut album went platinum in the U.S.

This past year Adele borrowed from soul and jazz to become a international pop star, and it’s these same fans who may also may be taken with Spalding’s unique brand of jazz-pop. Spalding has a genuine talent that is plainly apparent no matter where she’s performing, most recently garnering acclaim for her performance of “What A Wonderful World” during the 2012 Academy Awards.

Her success would provide welcome variety on radio airwaves, which are currently clogged with an electro-pop sound that makes it hard to discriminate one singer from the next.

Spalding by far is one of the most interesting female voices out now, and her cross-over success could prove to be a boon for both jazz and pop music fans.

Follow Kia Miakka Natisse on Twitter at @miakka_natisse