Cécile Sophie McLorin Salvant was born in Miami, Florida. Her father, who is Haitian, is a doctor and her mother, who is French, is the founder and president of a French immersion school in Miami. Salvant began studies in classical piano at the age of five, and began singing in the Miami Choral Society when she was eight. She subsequently developed an interest in classical voice and began studying with private instructors, and later with Edward Walker, vocal teacher at the University of Miami. She has said: “I was lucky enough to grow up in a house where we listened to all kinds of music. We listened to Haitian, hip hop, soul, classical jazz, gospel and Cuban music, to name a few. When you have access to that as a child, it just opens up your world.”
In 2007, Salvant 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 [fr], that she studied improvisation, instrumental and vocal repertoire, and sang with her first band.
In a four-star review of her sold-out engagement at Ronnie Scott’s Club in London in June 2015, John Fordham wrote in The Guardian: “She brings ideas from unexpected angles to the familiar art of standards-singing, and she applies a mischievous intelligence to well-worn lyrics in ways that transform them.”