December 10th, 2009
07:14 PM ET

The jazz musician Obama wants you to know

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Judging by some of the tweets fired off this morning, there were quite a few left clueless by President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize concert performance pick. The young woman grooving with the bass like only a prodigy could was none other than 25-year-old Esperanza Spalding. Never one to be boxed in by convention, Esperanza entertained guests with jazz instead of the usual classical.

“We have a new kind of laureate, we’ll have a new kind of music,” Nobel Committee Secretary Geir Lundestad said of the shake-up.

Esperanza, originally from Portland, Oregon, has appeared everywhere from jazz concerts to Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel Live in the past few years, but if you’ve somehow missed this multilingual, musical phenomenon, here are five things to know.

1. It's no surprise that Esperanza was hand-picked for Oslo by the President himself since she goes way back with the First couple - both of whom are said to be huge fans. In May of this year, the young musician was invited to the Obama’s “Poetry, Music and Spoken Word” event and offered an impressive rendition of Lauryn Hill’s “Tell Him” in the White House’s East Room.

2. Her lifelong love of music was inspired by none other than classical cellist Yo Yo Ma, who appeared on an episode of “Mister Rogers' Neighborhood” when Esperanza was four. By the next year, she was playing the violin – yes, at the age of five she was rocking the strings – and would continue for the next ten years.

3. Home schooled as a child, Esperanza found school easy and boring. She stumbled upon bass when she was 15, fooling around in the music room when she was supposed to be in class. By 16, Esperanza had earned her GED and was in dogged pursuit of a musical passion that led her all the way to Berklee College of Music where she's now an instructor - the youngest the institution has ever had.

4. If you try and contain her sound to jazz musicians of the past, she just might give you the side eye. As she said in an interview with Afrobella, “Jazz is not gone. Mos Def is jazz; Aretha is jazz; Jill Scott is jazz. I see no point in reemphasizing a period of jazz from the 40s and 50s because it’s evolved and permeated everything.”

5. Leave Esperanza stranded in the soul section of a music store and make her pick up a few CDs for purchase in the span of mere minutes, she turns up with everything from Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles to Adele and M'Shell Ndegeocello, as she happily demonstrated for

Filed under: Music

soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Kirk B

    Esperanza is an excellent choice and a fantastic decision. It is also great that Obama is promoting jazz. I think it is great to have a black president. The extremely liberal policies are disturbing. He is wrong on every major issue. The fact that he was given the prize is a joke.

    December 12, 2009 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Bill P

    Another reason to like President Obama He is promoting jazz music and musicians Jazz is America's classical music and we so many struggling, talented artists. To have someone in the White House who appreciates this is very important and can help to educate the public of this fact and help turn things around.

    December 12, 2009 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Debra R

    1. Obama didn't really "win" he was "given" this honor which he graciously stated.

    2. As POTUS he could not legally keep any prize $$$.

    3. Again....Potus is not black he is bi-racial ( both the blacks and whites need to get over this and quit dropping the race card either with praise or with criticism.)

    4. Getting back to the FOCUS: Esperanza is indeed one talented musician. She is quickly on her way to stand toe to toe with Yo Yo Ma. She would have gotten there on her own talent, but thanks to the patronage of The President she may get there quicker.

    4. she is right...Jazz as an art form has not died. And jazz is not "owned" by a particular race. From Mel Torme, Ornette Coleman, Pearl Bailey to Eseranza and Henry Connick Jr.

    December 11, 2009 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
  4. Diane

    No he didn't give Ms. Spalding the Noble Peace Prize monies, he donated them..the morning of his acceptance.

    December 11, 2009 at 3:23 am | Report abuse |
  5. oKay

    Esperanza is SUCH a talented and gifted artists. Her music crosses many generations, cultures and races...she has artistry at it's best!

    December 11, 2009 at 2:12 am | Report abuse |
  6. Tom

    Oh, and here I thought this was going to be a story on Poots Walker!

    December 11, 2009 at 12:25 am | Report abuse |
  7. Claudia, Texas

    "quite a few left clueless"?? Geez, Fox News, would it kill you to compliment one choice that our president makes? This woman is immensely talented – I heard her on a radio program and she is amazing. I'm glad she was given a big stage.

    December 10, 2009 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Kate

    One of the greatest things about the internet is that we can have access to the world of great musicians, including this remarkable young woman.

    The Obamas continue to enrich the nation with a renewed emphasis on diverse arts and culture.

    December 10, 2009 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jeff

    Among so many things, again I agree with President Obama.
    Also on his music taste he is the best. By choosing Esperanza Spalding he confirms this in my opinion.
    I enjoy almost every weekend from her self entitled album "Esperanza".
    The groove on the song "I love you know" and her version of the Brazilian classic "Ponta de Areia" are just masterpieces.

    Indeed, Thank you Mr. President!!!!!

    December 10, 2009 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Zoeymsom92081

    @Madeline No, he's donating the money to charity. Happy now?

    December 10, 2009 at 9:16 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Ally

    Bitter much, Madeline? Really, how far has whining gotten you in your life? I'm so sick of people politicizing everything. The story is about Ms. Spalding, not Obama. And guess what, it's not about YOU either, so get over yourself. Pull your little wounded ego ("I can't believe a black guy is my President!") up by the boot straps, dust yourself off, grow a pair, and get on with your life!

    December 10, 2009 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
  12. paulie

    no he donated it to charity

    December 10, 2009 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  13. A. Smith, Oregon

    What a immensely talented woman. I'm not surprised that President Obama is highly supportive of Esperanza. Nor am I surprised by the mainstream closely kept musical promoters that have not even heard of her.

    Even with Esperanza's immense talents, it takes someone of the caliber of President Obama to step outside of the heavily cash influenced promotion of America's music talents and industry where cash is king and the talent it promotes is far from the best.

    Thank you President Obama for honoring Esperanza!

    December 10, 2009 at 8:08 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Madeline

    Is Prez Obama giving Esperanza Spaulding the Noble Peace Prize money he won.

    December 10, 2009 at 7:42 pm | Report abuse |

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