Oscar nominee, six-time Grammy-winner and 2018 USA Fellow trumpeter/composer Terence Blanchard has been a consistent artistic force for making powerful musical statements concerning painful American tragedies – past and present.
From his expansive work composing the scores for Spike Lee films ranging from the documentary When the Levees Broke, about Blanchard’s hometown of New Orleans during the devastation from Hurricane Katrina to the epic Malcolm X; and the latest Lee film, Da 5 Bloods, Blanchard has interwoven melodies that created strong backdrops to human stories.
Blanchard received an Oscar nomination for his original score for BlacKkKlansman. He was also BAFTA nominated for his original music for the film. He won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Composition for writing “Blut Und Boden (Blood and Soil)” a track from BlacKkKlansman.
More recently, Blanchard has composed his second opera, Fire Shut Up in My Bones, based on the memoir of celebrated writer and The New York Times columnist Charles Blow. The libretto was written by Kasi Lemmons and commissioned by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis where it premiered in June 2019. The New York Times has called Blanchard’s opera “inspiring,” “subtly powerful” and “a bold affecting adaptation of Charles Blow’s work.” The Metropolitan Opera of New York will premiere Fire in 2022-23, making it the first opera composed by an African American composer to premiere at the MET. Blanchard’s first opera, Champion also premiered to critical acclaim in 2013 at OTSL and starred Denyce Graves with a libretto from Pulitzer Prize Winner, Michael Cristofer.
With his current quintet E-Collective, featured on the score to BlacKkKlansman with a 96-piece orchestra, Blanchard delivered “a soaring, seething, luxuriant score,” the New York Times. In Vice Magazine, Blanchard elaborates, “In BlacKkKlansman it all became real to me. You feel the level of intolerance that exists for people who ignore other people’s pain. Musically, I can’t ignore that. I can’t add to that intolerance. Instead I have to help people heal from it. “
Some of Blanchard’s other film and television credits include the upcoming series Perry Mason starring Matthew Rhys with episodes directed by Tim Van Patten, which premieres on HBO on June 21; the Kasi Lemmons’ films, Eve’s Bayou; Talk to Me; and Harriet; George Lucas’ Red Tails; and Tim Story’s Barbershop. Blanchard also wrote the original score for the powerful documentary On the Record which was directed and produced by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering and premieres on HBO Max on May 27.
Regarding his consistent attachment to artistic works of conscience, Blanchard confesses, “You get to a certain age when you ask, ‘Who’s going to stand up and speak out for us?’ Then you look around and realize that the James Baldwins, Muhammad Alis and Dr. Kings are no longer here…and begin to understand that it falls on you. I’m not trying to say I’m here to try to correct the whole thing, I’m just trying to speak the truth.” In that regard, he cites unimpeachable inspirations. “Max Roach with his ‘Freedom Now Suite,’ John Coltrane playing ‘Alabama,’ even Louis Armstrong talking about what was going on with his people any time he was interviewed. Herbie Hancock & Wayne Shorter who live by their Buddhist philosophy and try to expand the conscience of their communities. I’m standing on all of their shoulders. How dare I come through this life having had the blessing of meeting those men and not take away any of that? Like anybody else, I’d like to play feel good party music but sometimes my music is about the reality of where we are.”