Esperanza Spalding is at the top of her field, breaking new ground as an artist, and will be taking her skills to the ivy leagues. The bassist and singer was appointed a “professor of the practice” within Harvard University’s Department of Music. The 32-year-old artist and activist is expected to teach a range of courses including songwriting, arranging and improvisation. The university’s professors of the practice are individuals renowned for having “a national / international reputation as leaders”.
“Esperanza is a superstar performer: Not only does she sing and play multiple instruments, she’s multilingual and writes her own lyrics, which are often witty and wry and always assuredly profound and perspicacious,” said department chair Suzannah Clark. “There is a great thirst amongst current students at Harvard for courses in songwriting and music video, in both improvised and composed formats. Esperanza brings a formidable experience and dazzling range of stylistic capacities in these areas.”
Last week, Harvard’s press release refers to the artist as “a national treasure with global resonance”. The four-time Grammy award-winning singer has put out five studio albums with three placing No.1 on U.S. jazz charts and is known for her unique blend of jazz, rock, funk, soul, and R&B, along with influences from Brazilian music. Her accolades include everything from an NAACP Image Award to the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award for the Performing Arts. Spalding’s voice has carried beyond music through her 2013 video called “We Are America” about Guantanamo Bay and prison. Her most iconic performances include being the laureate-invited singer and bassist at the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony and concert where president Barack Obama won the Peace Prize in 2009. Spalding also sharing the stage with Solange at the 2016 Peace Ball at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.
Esperanza notably “stands apart for the intelligence and deep sense of humanity” found in her work. The school promises that Spalding will bring her “commitment to music as a voice for social justice” to the classroom with her. This won’t be Spalding’s first time in front of students, either. After graduating from the Berklee College of Music in 2005, Spalding was hired as one of the school’s youngest-ever instructors at age 20.
“The appointment of Esperanza Spalding [has] great symbolic importance, signaling a commitment to the creative performing arts as a core feature of liberal arts education in the 21st century, and positions the department for the musical landscape of the future, while providing Harvard students — and all of us — with bold models for how to live as artists in the world.” said Clark.
Contextually, D+Evolution was something of a rebirth for Spalding. After 2012’s Radio Music Society she took two years off from creating music. ‘See this pretty girl / Watch this pretty girl flow,’ she sings confidently on D+Evolution opener ‘Good Lava.’ Time paid off; she came back stronger than ever and it’s evident as soon as the album begins. In Prince‘s passing D+Evolution feels even more important than it already was, because you can hear his influence throughout — not just musically but in the fearlessness and freedom of it all. Spalding has and will continue to fight for uncontrolled creative expression, and D+Evolution is a testament to that. – Elijah Watson (Blavity)
Spalding has also announced that she will write and record her new album Exposure, during a 72-hour Facebook Livestream on September 12. “I’m going to go into the studio with nothing prepared…and for three days, we’re going to create compose, write, record, produce and finish an album.”
Congrats, Professor Spalding!