The Pain and Genius of Terence Blanchard’s music in “BlacKkKlansman”


By Kristen Bates

Terence Blanchard has been intertwined with music all of his life. As a kid he listened to Miles Davis and John Coltrane records nearly every day in his room. The rhythm of trumpets and saxophones dancing through his ears and stirring his imagination. Blanchard jokes that his father would give him money to go out of the house and have fun. But music was Blanchard’s fun – and his future.

Blanchard is a distinguished jazz musician and film composer. He had won five Grammy’s for his work up until BlacKkKlansman and now, for the first time, is nominated for an Oscar in the Best Original Music Score category. One track, “Blut Und Boden” (Blood and Soil) recently earned him his sixth Grammy.

“It’s overwhelming,” says Blanchard on his nomination, “I really have been trying to find other words but there aren’t any.”

Blanchard’s score mixes an electric guitar with the sounds of a traditional orchestra. He credits Jimi Hendrix’s performance of the National Anthem at Woodstock in 1969 as his inspiration.

“I remember that sound had such a resonance in my life at the time,” recalls Blanchard, who grew up in New Orleans during the 1970’s, a time when KKK Grand Wizard David Duke was inciting race riots and promoting White Nationalism in the Crescent City.

Each instrument had a significant role in telling the story of the characters in the film. Ron Stallworth’s infiltration of the KKK was a radical idea and the parallel of the electric guitar penetrating the sound of the orchestra was the perfect way to represent Stallworth’s heroism. Because BlacKkKlansman was set in the 1970’s, Blanchard wanted to combine an R&B rhythm section with the traditional orchestral sound.

The last scene of the film is a transition to current issues of White Nationalism and racism in the United States. Scenes of the Unite the Right rally Charlottesville, Virginia, play with slow and somber music in the background. Blanchard wanted to reflect the pain felt from people of color while this footage was playing.

“There’s a bit of anger,” says Blanchard, “but there’s mostly hurt.” Blanchard said the years of trying to combat racism and hatred towards people of color have left them tired

As for the future, Blanchard remains cautiously optimistic. He hopes his music for BlacKkKlansman will be remembered as a symbol for this period in American History.

The 91stAcademy Awards airs this Sunday, February 24, at 5pm PST. BlacKkKlansman is nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Original Music Score.