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Esperanza Spalding Brings Acclaimed New Music to the Apollo Theater

April 13th, 2016

The deck was stacked against her. The Best New Artist Grammy had never before been awarded to a jazz artist. Plus Bieber Fever was in full effect, and it wasn’t just Justin Bieber—all of the other nominees, Drake, Florence and the Machine and Mumford & Sons, were inarguably more famous than she. But nevertheless, 26-year-old Portland, Ore., native Esperanza Spalding strode up to the podium to collect her award in 2011. By that point, she’d already been playing music for more than 20 years. Spurred on by seeing Yo-Yo Ma play the cello on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood when she was just four, the precocious Spalding took up the violin when she was five. Not content with one instrument, she next conquered the oboe and clarinet before discovering the upright bass in high school. And if all of that weren’t enough, the talented performer began writing lyrics, and she could sing in English, Portuguese and Spanish. After spending time at Berklee College of Music, Spalding began touring in support of other musicians. And then upon graduation, she started teaching at the famed music school and recording her own albums. The third, Chamber Music Society (stream it below), caught people’s attention, eventually netting her that surprise Grammy. But it’s been her sixth studio full-length, Emily’s D+Evolution (stream it below), out last month, that’s returned Spalding (above, performing “Good Lava” on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert) to the spotlight, winning nearly universal praise. “Esperanza Spalding’s new recording, Emily’s D+Evolution, is an astonishing beauty, a set of a dozen songs that artfully and persuasively bridge genres. It is simultaneously the most forward work of the singer and bass player in the way it combines her musical influences with coherent and powerful lyrics and a project that feels rooted in a 1970s sensibility—reminding us of a time when pop, soul, jazz, rock, and singer-songwriter tradition were in constant dialogue,” according to PopMatters. “Because Spalding’s individual strengths as a fleet singer and superb instrumentalist are so perfectly set in these songs, they do not sound like throwbacks, however. Emily’s D+Evolution is a recording only Spalding could have made, and it shouts with invention, confidence and style.” Currently working her way down the East Coast, Spalding plays the world-famous Apollo Theater tomorrow night.