Artist of the Week: Terence Blanchard

Terence Blanchard’s Road from Jazz to Historic Opera Premiere

By Francisco Salazar

On Sept. 27, the Metropolitan Opera will make history presenting “Fire Shut Up in My Bones.” It will be the first time the company presents an opera composed by a black composer – that composer is Terence Blanchard.

Talking about the historical moment to the Washington Post the composer said, “It’s a bit overwhelming. Once you get into the rehearsal phase, you start to see how big this production really is. You start to see how dedicated all of the participants are. It’s pretty amazing to see this entire cast take ownership of this piece. You know, it’s like I originally wrote it, but it doesn’t belong to me anymore. So that means a lot.”

“Fire Shut Up in My Bones” made its world premiere in 2019 at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and it was just the composer’s second opera. Blanchard had previously world premiered “Champion” with Saint Louis in 2013. However, before that, he was better known as a jazz musician and a film composer.

As a jazz musician, he began touring with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra and later became Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers Music Director. In 1986 he formed a quintet entitled “The Terence Blanchard/Donald Harrison Quintet” and in 1990 he pursued a solo career. That solo career would lead him to record several albums for Columbia, Sony Classical, and Blue Note Records. Along the way, he also won five Grammys and worked with numerous well-known artists including Lady Gaga, Diana Krall, Jane Monheit, Dianne Reeves, and Cassandra Wilson, among many others.

Blanchard has also been a successful film composer, working with many great filmmakers like George Lucas, Kasi Lemmons, and Regina King. However, one of his greatest collaborations has been with Spike Lee, with who he has performed and composed. Among his most acclaimed scores are those of “BlacKkKlansman” and “Da 5 Bloods,” for which he garnered two Academy Award nominations.

Blanchard has also worked on Broadway and is also the Kenny Burrell Chair in Jazz Studies at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music.

Metropolitan Opera audiences are in for a new experience as Blanchard says “I’m writing more like a jazz musician where you have colors that are changing every two bars like a standard jazz composition. I’m trying to meld that into the tradition of what’s been happening in opera.”

And for audiences that will not be in New York for the historical moment, the work will be broadcast in HD and also presented at the Lyric Opera of Chicago later this season.


Blanchard has a huge discography that is definitely worth checking out but for the purposes of this article, here are some clips of “Fire Shut Up in My Bones.”


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