Terence Blanchard wove history into the score for "Harriet"

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Saturday August 24, 2019

From Fast Company

How composer Terence Blanchard wove history into the score for ‘Harriet’

“Jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard is one of Hollywood’s preeminent composers, having scored 20 of Spike Lee’s projects’“including last year’s BlacKkKlansman, which earned him his first Oscar nomination’“and Harriet, Kasi Lemmons’s upcoming biopic of abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Blanchard has also begun experimenting with opera, most recently writing the music for Fire Shut Up in My Bones (based on the New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow’s 2014 memoir), which premiered at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in June. ‘I’ve always been a believer that the universe will put things in front of you, and how you react will determine your future,’ Blanchard says. Here’s how he’s channeled that improvisational spirit into a melodious career.

When Spike Lee asked Blanchard if he could help compose the score for his 1990 jazz drama Mo’ Better Blues, Blanchard quickly said yes. And then he panicked. At that point, Blanchard was a rising jazz musician who had performed background music for Lee’s earlier films, including School Daze and Do the Right Thing. During a break from filming Mo’ Better Blues, Lee overheard Blanchard playing one of his own compositions. He asked if the song could be used in the film and if Blanchard could write a string arrangement to go along with it’“something the trumpeter had never done before. Blanchard says he realized that acknowledging that he might not be able to pull off the task would be the same as ‘locking myself up and closing my experience off.’ After a pep talk from his composition teacher, who urged him to trust his training, Blanchard earned his first film composition credit’“which snowballed into a three-decade-long collaborative relationship with Lee.”

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