‘Who The **** Is Esperanza Spalding?’ (A.K.A. The Grammys Thread)

By Arturo R. García

The reactions to Esperanza Spalding’s win for Best New Artist seemed to range from the one above to, “Well, at least it wasn’t The Bieb.” But the win was as weird as it was surprising, as the 26-year-old isn’t a rookie.

Spalding was nominated following her third album, Chamber Music Society, which was released in July 2010, and was eligible because, in the eyes of the powers that be, Chamber was the first recording “which establishes the public identity of that artist.” Besides her own work, Spalding is the bassist in the US5 Quintet, led by jazz stalwart Joe Lovano, a Grammy-winner in his own right.

Of course, Spalding’s been relying on more than her album to “establish her public identity.” At last year’s 2010 BET Awards, she held her own alongside Janelle Monae, Alicia Keys and Patti LaBelle in a tribute medley for Prince. Spalding comes in at the three-minute mark with an abbreviated take on “If I Was Your Girlfriend.” (According to People Magazine, Prince personally requested she take part.)

She also attracted some attention for her rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed” at a White House event; Spalding has subsequently collaborated with Wonder.

Of course, the Best New Artist award has been tagged as the “kiss of death” for many of its winners. But based on an interview with Spinner.com, it sounds like Spalding’s keeping a healthy sense of perspective for now:

“I like to work. I like music,” she explains. “The real issue is that the solo career is the odd man out in my life right now. I have much more experience playing bass for other bandleaders than leading my own gigs, and I love being a sideman just as much. That’s why I got into music. It wasn’t to become my own phenomenon; it was to play music with other people. So whomever wants to play with me, and I can, and I’m into it, and inspired? Then off I go.”

Other observations:

  • Speaking of Monae, her team-up with B.o.B and Bruno Mars stole the show for me. I don’t care for Mars’ lounge-lizard schtick, but the man has the chops, and their medley got better as it went along
  • Of course, I’d gladly take “Beautiful” over anything by Lady Antebellum. If you need a hand reminding your friends as to why that group’s name is problematic, let Tami break it down for them.
  • No Guru in the R.I.P retrospective? Downright shameful.
  • Lady Gaga’s lyrics might be questionable, but at least she didn’t pull any Chola-face antics in her rendition of “Express Yourself”“Born This Way.”
    Cee-Lo Green showing up with some Muppet-ish creatures for his performance of “F(orget) You” was, much like the song, repackaged retro, as proven by the clip below.
  • (As an old-school fan of The Muppet Show, I must note: the Gwyneth thing? All Cee-Lo. And maybe some network execs. But I digress.)

    Anybody else out there watch the show and care to chime in?

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    • bdsista

      So Glad Esperanza won, we saw her at the Capitol Jazz Fest this past summer and she was wonderful. I was just happy that Jazz got a seat at the table with rap, country, pop and rock. cosign on Lady Gaga being a perfect Madonna imitation. Being a dancer I kept trying to like it, but I just couldn’t get into the choreography or the song, I just wanted it to be over. Am I the only one who is simply not impressed with Lady Gaga, although I think her politics are ok and she seems to be a nice person, but I dig deep for the excitement and its….simply….not…. there.
      I actually liked the Jaden/Beiber/Usher performance probably cuz I teach middle school and know all the little ones were probably screaming. Also for the look of sheer joy on Jada and Will’s face as parents.

      LOVED Cee-Lo, had never heard of him prior to this, and though Gwyneth did ok considering she was singing with muppets-actually this was a highlight of the show.

      Got pissed that Lady Antebellum won everything for the tepid whining song. I too was seriously pissed about the Teddy Pendergrass piss ass excuse for a salute.
      Was actually kinda glad that hip hop did not win everything, as a teacher I would reallylike for them to seriously think about their messages vis a vis the 11-16 year olds who buy their music and imitate their behavior.

      I adore Janelle Monae and called everyone in my family to watch her, wish she had sang Tightrope and had a big ole bunch of backup singers. OK Really wished she had done Tightrope and replaced Lady Gaga’s entire number.

      Arcade Fire was the biggest disappointment and for me and all my FB friends was the WTF???? moment of the show? I suffered through their horrible song and then when they went back for more, changed the channel to the local news to hear tomorrows weather.

      Delighted about Esperanza though, so glad real talent won.