Cécile McLorin Salvant was born and raised in Miami, Florida of a French mother and a Haitian father. She started classical piano studies at 5, and began singing in the Miami Choral Society at 8. Early on, she developed an interest in classical voice, began studying with private instructors, and later with Edward Walker, vocal teacher at the University of Miami.
In 2007, Cécile moved to Aix-en-Provence, France, to study law as well as classical and baroque voice at the Darius Milhaud Conservatory. It was in Aix-en-Provence, with reedist and teacher Jean-François Bonnel, that she started learning about jazz, and sang with her first band. In 2009, after a series of concerts in Paris, she recorded her first album "Cécile", with Jean-François Bonnel's Paris Quintet. A year later, she won the Thelonious Monk competition in Washington D.C.
Over the years, she has developed a curiosity for the history of American music, and the connections between jazz, vaudeville, blues, and folk music. Cécile carefully chooses her repertoire, oftentimes unearthing rarely recorded, forgotten songs, with strong stories.
She enjoys popularity in Europe and in the United States, performing in clubs, concert halls, and festivals. In 2014, her second album, WomanChild (Mack Avenue Records) was nominated for a Grammy.
Her third album, For One To Love (for Mack Avenue Records), was recorded in 2015 with Aaron Diehl (piano), Paul Sikivie (bass), and Lawrence Leathers (drums). In 2016, For One To Love won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album.
Her fourth album, Dreams and Daggers, (for Mack Avenue Records), was recorded in part live at the Village Vanguard in 2016 with Aaron Diehl (piano), Paul Sikivie (bass), and Lawrence Leathers (drums), The Catalyst Quartet and Sullivan Fortner. In 2017, Dreams and Daggers was nominated for the 60th Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album.
Ben Ratliff writes in The New York Times “she sings clearly, with her full pitch range, from a pronounced low end to full and distinct high notes, used sparingly [...] Her voice clamps into each song, performing careful variations on pitch, stretching words but generally not scatting; her face conveys meaning, representing sorrow or serenity like a silent-movie actor.”
Jazz journalist Fred Kaplan, who profiled Salvant in The New Yorker, believes that she has a masterly grasp on exhibiting a wide emotional range in her music. "Her blues are blue. Her swings swing," Kaplan says. "She has vast, almost operatic range."He also says that Salvant digs into a lyric like an actress. "She finds things in a lyric that other jazz singers kind of glide by," he says. "'Mad About the Boy' — if you just looked at the lyrics, you'd think this is really a song written by a crazy person. Or a song narrated by a crazy person. And she gets into that. It is a mad song."