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Esperanza Spalding Recalls Topping Justin Bieber For Best New Artist
(The Recording Academy asked recipients of the Best New Artist GRAMMY to share firsthand accounts of winning one of music's biggest awards. In this installment, Esperanza Spalding details her win for 2010. The other artists nominated for Best New Artist at the 53rd GRAMMY Awards were Justin Bieber, Drake, Florence & The Machine, and Mumford & Sons.)
(As told to Paul Zollo)
I remember hearing about the GRAMMY nomination. It was 2010. I was in my weird little West Village apartment at the time, which was so little you could barely even call it an apartment. A room with a window looking out at a brick wall. I guess you call that an apartment in New York.
My manager called me and, before he told me, he started listing off the GRAMMY Awards for which I could be nominated. He said, "So the only one you got nominated for was Best New Artist." And I was like, "OK, cool."
At first I didn't even know what he was talking about. I just figured it was some subcategory of jazz that I did not know. But when he explained, we both started laughing. We were laughing! We never thought I would win it. But it seemed like a great excuse to go to the GRAMMYs. … "It'll be a party! We will go to L.A. and it'll be awesome!" That really was my thinking at the time.
Honestly, the whole thing was surreal. Soon as I was nominated, the press wrote that I was competing against [Justin] Bieber. And the use of the word "against" disturbed me. We are all musicians and doing our own music. We are completely different, doing our own thing, and hopefully enjoying it, and each have our own following in the world, so to somehow be considered against each other for an award, when we are all working in multiple genres, that's not really conducive to the spirit of the art, for me.
So we went, and it wasn't until John Legend and Jewel called my name from the podium that I knew this was real.
Everybody in the press room backstage asked me the same question: "How did it feel to beat Bieber?" And I said, "I didn't beat him, it doesn't work like that. When this is all over, we're all colleagues. We're doing our things in our respective fields. But I'm the one taking that thing home." I also said that he has great hair and I have great hair, too. And I still feel the same way.
There was a real impact of winning. I think I started to get into larger theaters. Once the GRAMMY thing happened, the people in the audience started to change. I might have just been imagining it. But I think I saw more diversity in the audience, and people who would not have come to a jazz concert, but they heard my name on the GRAMMYs and thought, "OK, what's this chick about?"
And that was a really good feeling, particularly for that project, which was so not commercial in every way. It was really great. And I know that tagline on my name — "GRAMMY-winning" — opened up a lot of doors in terms of press [and] visibility. And it was a great amplifier for my next project. I felt we were spreading a voice within this music in a very broad way.
(A three-time GRAMMY winner, Esperanza Spalding released her latest studio album, Emily's D+Evolution, in March.)
(Paul Zollo is the senior editor of American Songwriter and the author of several books, including Songwriters On Songwriting, Conversations With Tom Petty and Hollywood Remembered. He's also a songwriter and Trough Records artist whose songs have been recorded by many artists, including Art Garfunkel, Severin Browne and Darryl Purpose.)