One of the surest signs that the members of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS) have upped their hipness credentials considerably is this year's huge surprise Grammy winner for Best New Artist, a 26-year-old jazz bassist who just controversially beat out even the seemingly unstoppable Justin Bieber. And that would be Esperanza Spalding--an enormously talented artist whose style and skills are musical first, and--unlike many of her predecessors--by no means intentionally commercial. It's just working out that way.
Spalding, a native of Portland, Oregon, has so far recorded three albums. Her 2010 release, Chamber Music Society, garnered the largest share of public attention, but she remained a relative unknown outside of jazz circles, despite playing with the likes of Prince, Patti Austin, Joe Lovano, Fourplay, and fellow jazz bassist Stanley Clarke, and even performing at the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony and accompanying concert as the personal selection of Peace Prize winner President Barack Obama.
In fact, when Esperanza's name was announced as a Best New Artist nominee back in December, alongside more mainstream contenders like Drake, Florence & The Machine, Mumford & Sons, and Bieber, it was a shocker. And it was even bigger jaw-dropper this week when she WON, becoming the first jazz artist to ever take home the award.
Esperanza accepts her award Esperanza was as stunned as anyone. "I feel really lucky that I got to be acknowledged on this stage in front of so many people who hopefully will get to experience my music, and I got there by doing what's really dear to my heart," she gushed backstage after her history-making win.
One faction that WASN'T feeling so lucky were the Beliebers, aka Justin Bieber fanatics, who were so incensed over Justin's perceived snub that they attacked Esperanza's Wikipedia page, spamming it with outraged insults. Example post: "Justin Bieber deserved it go die in a hole. Who the heck are you anyway?" Justin himself admitted to MTV News that he was "disappointed," but as the adorable video above demonstrates, he was a much better sport about everything than his fans were.
Yahoo! Music caught up with Esperanza last month while she was performing at Bergen Community College in New Jersey, and we were highly charmed both by her wonderful performance--take a look at her "Really Very Small," included here--and an interview that revealed the warmth and graciousness that are so obviously a part of her character. Watch those clips, along with a piece on her road to Grammy glory, below.