Jazz Artist Esperanza Spalding Wins Grammy

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Winner of 2011 “New Artist” Grammy Award
Esperanza Spalding:  Jazz Bassist and Singer

Jeff Johnson, commentator on the Tom Joyner Morning Show (107.9 WRNB in Philly) gave an excellent response to the “surprise” and “outrage” by many people after Esperanza Spalding won the “New Artist”  Grammy Award this week. (The last time a performer won Best New Artist for their performance of jazz was in 1959 when Bobby Darin sang “Mack the Knife.”)

Below is a transcript of his response.  I couldn’t agree more.

I want to revisit a small but heavily debated segment of Sunday night’s Grammy show.  The “New Artist” category has seen the likes of Natalie Cole, Sade, Arrested Development, Lauryn Hill, John Legend take home the coveted golden grammy.

Most in attendance and the millions watching this year’s show believed that the teen heartthrob who brought in 30-million dollars at the box office this weekend would walk away with the prize.  Some thought there might be a slight upset and that the prince of Little Wayne’s  Cash Money Young Money label would take the spotlight that he has captured in the Hip Hop crowd for the last year.

But when the award-winner was read, it was neither pop sensation Justin Bieber or rapper extraordinaire Drake.  The name on the inside of the envelope was Esperanza Spalding, and much of the world watching the show said, “Who?”

First, there has never, since the award has been given out in 1959 , been a jazz artist who received the award.  Secondly, Spalding who had before that night had a little over 5,000 followers on Twitter was not bubbling over with international fame and attention.  But what many entertainment writers and pop fans were unaware of, a select few have been honoring with praise and adoration for quite some time.

This self-taught musician from Portland, Oregon, personifies what the award SHOULD be about.  And for it to happen during Black History Month, makes it just that much better.

For those who still don’t know anything about Esperanza, she grew up in Portland and at (age) four was inspired by classic cellist Yo-Yo Ma performing on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood of all places.  By the time she was five, she had taught herself to play the violin and was playing with the Chamber of Music Society of Oregon where she stayed until she was fifteen and left as a concert master.

She picked up the bass in high school when she left to get a GED and after a struggle to push to Berklee College of Music, she became the university’s youngest professor.  At that time she was always writing and performing music.  And (Esperanza), if you’ve never heard her stuff, can sing in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

What I find amusing is that while Bieber fans were hating on her talking about nobody knows who she is, they failed to at least Google her to know that she’s performed at Oslo in honor of President Obama’s Peace Prize to the BET Awards tribute to Prince.  I don’t know much about the music business, but that’s seems impressive to me.

Now one of the biggest critiques of her win, was that with a total of three albums out, she’s not really a new artist.  Well, it’s funny that no one cared to mention that when she got nominated.  But more important than that, the rules of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Science states that the official guidelines are as follows:

for a new artist who releases during the eligibility year the first recording establishes the public identity of that artist. Note that this is not necessarily the first album released by that artist.

The bottom line for me is that I think this is a great thing for The Grammies, for music, and for the Black community.  I’m excited that the winner for the new artist category is actually an artist.  Please don’t think that I take anything away from Bieber who actually is a talented entertainer or Drake who I think is an amazing representative for Hip Hop.  But mass distributed music and our young people need to see artists who are brilliantly skilled, contomperary and urban who will never sell a million CDs but represent an excellence of their craft.

How many of our kids need to hear that with no formal music program, a single parent home ,and few resources that this sister was able to teach herself.  There are other young people in our community who are doing the same thing right now waiting to be discovered and supported.  And while I dont’ think this award will suddenly make young urban kids go to classical music, I do believe it’s a small moment in time with a big message.  Let’s embrace it, and the sister who represents it. Pick up her CD, take a kid in your community to a classical event, and support our babies who may be doing some things that are unusual but who’s gifts and future can be unparalleled.

This is an opportunity to see the connection between the legacy of those in our history who have been classical artists but never gotten Grammys, never really gotten the lime light who have represented excellence.  Tom, as always, I’m Jeff Johnson, and that’s my truth.

Tom: You’re right, Jeff.

Sybil: Absolutely.

Tom:  I agree with you.

Jeff: She’s amazing.

Tom: It’s like the Grammies said.  If you want somebody that’s popular, you got the American Music Awards for that.  This is about art and artistry.

Jeff: We should get her on the cruise, Tom.

Tom: Alright. We’ll work on that.

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END OF TRANSCRIPTION
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If you are interested in hearing the audio version of this commentary, here is the link from the  TMJS website, although I can’t guarantee how long the link will work.

AUDIO LINK: http://wm-ondemand.abacast.com/reachmediainc/021511/JEFF.wma

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