National Museum of American History Receives Esperanza Spalding’s Nobel Peace Prize Performance Dress

October 16, 2011
In a ceremony today, Grammy Award-winning vocalist and musician Esperanza Spalding donated the dress she wore during her performance at the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony honoring President Barack Obama to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Today’s donation is a continuation of the museum’s women in jazz initiative, which began in April during Jazz Appreciation Month.

Spalding performed at the 2009 ceremony in Oslo, Norway, at the invitation of President Obama. Though she usually favors vintage outfits on stage—including her two previous performances at the White House—the Nobel ceremony required more formal attire. Spalding purchased the red one-shoulder evening dress in New York at the last minute. The floor-length dress has an embellishment detail on the one shoulder and a ruched bodice top with a simple, flowing skirt.

Spalding pursued music from a very early age. She taught herself to play violin well enough that, by age 4, she landed a spot in the Chamber Music Society of Oregon. By 15, Spalding had discovered the double bass and soon she was playing blues, funk, hip-hop and a variety of other music styles on the local club circuit.

Her journey as a solo artist began with the album Esperanza, the 2008 best-selling album by a new jazz artist internationally. This release was the first opportunity for a worldwide audience to hear her talents as a composer, instrumentalist and vocalist. Spalding’s music weaves the innovative elements of jazz, folk and world music into the foundations of classical chamber music traditions. She is passionate about making jazz music modern and bringing fresh influences to the genre. In February 2011, Spalding was awarded one of the music industry’s most prestigious prizes, a Grammy for Best New Artist for her Chamber Music Society album.

Chamber Music Society, Spalding’s most recent release, is a marriage of string and jazz trio, and a showcase for her eclectic sensibilities along with her vocal and compositional talents. The album, released in 2010, spent 10 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Albums charts.

The museum launched Jazz Appreciation Month in 2001 as an annual event that pays tribute to jazz both as a historic and living American art form. It has since grown to include celebrations in all 50 states and 40 other countries. This year’s 10th anniversary programming examined the legacies of women in jazz.

The Smithsonian operates the world’s most comprehensive set of jazz programs, and the National Museum of American History is home to jazz collections that include 100,000 pages of Duke Ellington’s unpublished music and such objects as Ella Fitzgerald’s famous red dress, Dizzy Gillespie’s angled trumpet, John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” manuscript and Benny Goodman’s clarinet.

The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. To learn more about the museum, visit http://americanhistory.si.edu. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).