Child prodigy, genius, or artistic organism? When it comes to Esperanza Spalding, all three descriptors have been used (despite her career-long attempt to shake off labels). The last one, however—“artistic organism”—comes from Spalding directly, reflecting the bassist and vocalist’s rather modest approach to describing herself and her work. Work that’s virtuosic, transcendent, and magical—work that’s reached jazz fans, pop fans, and just plain-old art fans. Her innovation spans jazz, poetry, opera, and theater; her performances May 24 and May 25 at the College of Charleston Cistern Yard promise—well, we don’t know exactly. Because if there’s anything one can say about Esperanza Spalding, is that she’ll keep us guessing.

Here are four things to know about this gloriously enigmatic performer:

1. Despite knocking them on her website, Ms. Spalding has quite a few accolades, including three Grammy Awards. She became the first jazz musician to ever receive the award for Best New Artist in 2010—winning over Justin Bieber (and getting into the dangerous business of enraging teenagers).

2. Growing up in Portland, Oregon, Spalding played the violin before picking up the double bass in high school. She went on to attend the Berklee College of Music, graduating in only three years, and becoming, at the time, the school’s youngest instructor at the age of 20. Since then, she’s performed worldwide and on several pretty prestigious stages—not in the least in Oslo, Norway, after President Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize. Check out this video of her playing at the White House:


3. In 2017, Spalding broke yet another mold when she recorded and produced the album Exposure and live-streamed the entire process—uninterrupted for 77 hours. More than 1.4 million people tuned in to watch the process. Her 2018 release, 12 Little Spells, ended up on several best-of-the-year lists, including The New York Times’Best Jazz or 2018” and “The 28 Best Albums of 2018” lists.  And looking towards the future, Spalding has hinted that her opera, Iphigenia—which she’s creating with jazz great Wayne Shorter—will debut in 2020.

4. Other musicians love her. In an interview with NPR, Grammy-winning drummer Terri Lyne Carrington described Spalding as one-of-a-kind: “If we go back in the music’s history, there are few people who are accomplished in all of the areas that Esperanza is. She’s a virtuosic bass player. Her voice is capable of acrobatics. Her compositions are not easy. Her lyrics are poetry. And she puts it all together in a way that’s commercially appealing. She’s setting an extreme example for young women in music.”

See Spalding May 24 and 25 in the College of Charleston Cistern Yard at 9:00 pm. (Get tickets HERE.) And for your listening pleasure, here’s a Spoleto-curated playlist of our favorite Esperanza Spalding tunes: