Person of the Week: Esperanza Spalding, Finding Her Voice Through Jazz

VIDEO: This weeks person of the week is the music artist of the year.

And the winner is ... Esperanza Spalding.

The seven words that shocked "beliebers" everywhere perhaps most stunned the young jazz pioneer herself.

Watch "World News with Diane Sawyer" for more on this story tonight on ABC

The lone jazz musician up for the Best New Artist award, and the first to ever win it, she "certainly felt like the underdog, the odd one out." As the realization sank in, she stood up, tried to collect herself, "to walk up those steps without tripping and speak coherent sentences in the microphone."

"I take this honor to heart so sincerely and I'll do my damndest to make a whole lot of great music for all of you." Her acceptance speech Sunday was the first time many Americans heard her voice.

While she might be considered a newcomer to mainstream music, the striking dark horse winner with that trademark hairdo has been playing since she was just 5 years old. She said she owes her journey, taking her from small clubs in Portland to the stage at the White House, to the "incredible community and family of musicians that I am so blessed to be a part of."

Who Is Esperanza Spalding?

The laughing, down-to-earth Spalding said her first inspiration came while watching television. "The first defining moment that sort of set off this road of my life as a musician was when I was 5," she said. "I saw Yo-Yo Ma on "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. When I saw that, I said hey, I want to do music."

She taught herself to play the violin, but said she owes her start to her single mother's "incredible foundation of support and her wisdom." Spalding's mother nurtured her daughter's talent and prevented their tough Portland neighborhood from stifling her musical curiosity.

"She went out of her way to find any programs that might be beneficial to me, finding instruments, finding teachers, any program on the weekend, in the summer," Spalding said. "I sort of think of her as my saint you know."

Her musical education continued through the years in Portland, a city that "really was an incredible place" for Spalding to grow up as a musician, she said. "I really feel like what I have a lot of musically, what I am aware of musically, is thanks to the incredible generosity of so many educators in that city."

Finding Her Voice

Spalding added the piano and the guitar to her repertoire, and then the instrument that helped her win the hearts of so many in the music community: the bass.

"When I was 15 and I picked up the bass, all of a sudden I got a taste of improvised music and I had never played anything that way in my life," she said. The bass gave her opportunities to play small gigs, and she entered the professionally.

"I felt like my voice was going to come out through this instrument," she said. And jazz, which "seemed so open, so accessible, and fun ... was just the music that spoke to me ... I grew to deeply love the storytelling aspect of it."

Then, a year later, she said the words every mother fears: I want to drop out of high school. But her mother gave the unexpected response, allowed her to follow her dreams. "She gave me a lot of freedom and trust when I was young," Spalding said, allowing her to go to college for jazz.

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