Jazz genius Cécile McLorin Salvant: ‘In periods of loneliness and fear, it’s instinctual to want to talk about love’

Fresh from receiving a MacArthur Foundation grant – and releasing an album inspired by Kate Bush and ghostly folk – the daring singer is already absorbed in the next challenge

In 2020, Cécile McLorin Salvant kept getting calls from an unknown number. Like any self-respecting millennial, she ignored them. “They called me so many times and I didn’t answer because no one answers a number that they don’t know,” she says, speaking by Zoom from her New York apartment.

When she finally picked up the phone, she “freaked out”. It was the MacArthur Foundation calling to tell her she had been chosen as one of its fellows, an honour that comes with a grant of $625,000 (£475,000) paid over five years. Given that Covid-19 meant her tour had been cancelled, it couldn’t have come at a better time. “It felt like a validation that went beyond music,” says the 32-year-old musician. “It felt like a validation of the way that I think. That’s a huge compliment. It’s the greatest honour.”

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