Composer Profile: The Prolific & Versatile Terence Blanchard

By David Salazar

Terence Blanchard is one of the most versatile musicians in the world.

Born on March 13, 1962, in New Orleans, Louisiana as an only child, his father Joseph Oliver Blanchard was a part-time opera singer. The young Terence began playing piano at five and then started on trump at age eight. He was a close friend of Wynton Marsalis from a young age and the two performed together at summer music camps.

He would eventually head over to Rutgers University to study jazz saxophone and trumpet. It was during this time that he began touring with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra and from there he would become the music director of the Jazz Messengers until 1986.

In the 1990s, he recorded his debut album for Columbia Records. During this time, he also started scoring movies for Spike Lee, starting with “Jungle Fever” in 1991. He has since developed a lengthy collaboration with the famed auteur, writing the music for such films as “Malcolm X,” “Clockers,” “25th Hour,” “Inside Man,” and “BlacKkKlansman,” among others.

Since then he has continued his career as a prominent film composer and performer, while also becoming a major part of such organizations as the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz and Monterey Jazz Festival among others.

He has also become a major opera composer in most recent years, starting his venture into the art form with the 2013 work “Champion” and following it up with “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” which will be the first opera by a Black composer to be presented at the Metropolitan Opera.

As of this writing, Blanchard has 14 career Grammy nominations and six career wins.

Signature Works

It would be natural to pinpoint his movie scores or recorded albums, but our focus will be on his operatic works, which while few to this point, are essential.

“Champion” had its world premiere in 2013 at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. It has since appeared at several opera companies around the U.S. “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” promises to be an even bigger hit as it is set to make Metropolitan Opera history as the first opera by a Black Composer that the company stages.

Watch and Listen 

Here are some excerpts from his operas and film scores.



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