By Logan Snook
Bassist. Vocalist. Composer. Grammy Award winner (beating out Justin Bieber, I might add). Human rights activist. Esperanza Spalding has been taking names and defying odds for most of her life. After fighting the public school system for years, Spalding dropped out of high school and enrolled at Portland State University at the age of 16, where she earned her B.A. degree in only three years.
She is the youngest-ever faculty member at Berklee College of Music in Boston, hired at the age of 20. In 2006, the year following her appointment at Berklee College of Music, Spalding debuted her first album, Junjo, has been blowing up the music scene ever since. Spalding has used her music and figure in popular music to call attention to human rights violations occurring in our society, and serves as a strong, driven model for women.
Working in an industry that has a strong history of male dominance, Spalding has tossed out any preconceived notions of what a “woman’s role” should be in jazz music. Gender roles have a long and influential history in music and jazz, deterring women away from playing more masculine instruments and keeping them in more traditional and non-authoritative positions. This is a fight Spalding has taken by the horns. Spalding uses her drive, passion, and commitment to her art form to break away from the constraints placed on women in jazz music. In response to being asked about working in a male dominant field, Spalding has responded, “I don’t know how it feels to be anything else but me. I’ve never been something else that I remember in this lifetime. I just blaze ahead, focused on what I’m focused on.”
Spalding was recently in the headlines for performing at Live at the White House 2016, A Celebration of American Creativity 2016. No stranger to performing for the POTUS, Spalding performed an upbeat and inspirational take on “Sunny Side of the Street” – a song traditional sung as a message for hope.