Music

Musician Terence Blanchard Gets Real About Race

"Caravan," the musician's largest project to date, tackles racial injustice and uses music as a vehicle to start an important conversation.
Reading time 5 minutes
Roxanne Minnish

Photography by Roxanne Minnish

Music brings people together. It is a form of societal glue that all can experience, regardless of upbringing or background. John Denver once said of the art form, “It allows us to experience the same emotions. People everywhere are the same in heart and spirit. No matter what language we speak, what color we are, the form of our politics, or the expression of our love and our faith, music proves: We are the same.”

This kind of mentality is exactly what Oscar-nominated and Grammy-winning trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard tries to emulate in his largest solo project yet, Caravan: A Revolution on the Road.

Throughout his musical tenure, Blanchard has earned much acclaim, with his most recent nod being an Academy Award nomination for Best Musical Score for Spike Lee’s film BlacKkKlansman. But despite having reached this high status, his musical inclination stems from humble beginnings.

As a native of New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, Blanchard found music to be a big part of daily life from a young age. His father was a part-time opera singer and at 8-years-old, a young Blanchard began learning how to play the trumpet. From there, a fruitful music career was born.

In his new project Caravan, Blanchard and the E-Collective teamed up with visual artist Andrew Scott, choreographer Rennie Harris, and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra to create an artistic experience that comments on racial injustice and tension in the modern day.

The performance continues the efforts that Blanchard and the E-Collective began with their album Breathless. The soundtrack comments on racial injustice throughout the United States, and the tour had venues in cities most affected by these issues.

The performance is featured at the 2019 SOLUNA International Music & Arts Festival in Dallas, happening throughout April, the different art forms and commentaries about these issues are merging to create an immersive, thought-provoking artistic experience that hopes to encourage all audiences to think in a more positive headspace. Blanchard, whose Caravan is part of the festival, talked with L'Officiel USA about his experiences working with Spike Lee, the development of his socially conscious new project, and what he hopes the audience understands upon viewing the performance.

Roxanne Minnish

You’ve worked with Spike Lee for a long time, beginning with the movie Mo’ Better Blues. Can you explain how this relationship impacted the rest of your career?

It’s been a cornerstone collaboration for me. Spike is a visionary and he has a visionary style. He has allowed me to be who I am within the context of his own vision. The thing with Spike is trust and if Spike trusts you, then he won’t reign you in. I’m very lucky.

 

Describe the moment you were nominated for the Academy Award for the Best Musical Score for BlacKkKlansman.

I was in disbelief. I was on the phone with my daughter and my wife took my phone out of my hand. It’s hard to describe. I’ve been in this business for 30 years and it’s such a long process. One of the most meaningful parts of the process was watching my wife enjoy the day.

Roxanne Minnish

What inspires you? How do you use musical composition to comment on social issues?

Art and music are an expression of our society. They really are documentation of an artist’s community.

 

Explain Caravan, your largest solo project to date. What was the inspiration behind this show?

Caravan is an extension of that concept, especially at a time when so much is happening in our country and so much is at stake. We’re creating fake news. And, at the same, people are being jailed and shot. And where is that on the news? This is my attempt to keep the conversation going so we can address violence in our society. And it wasn’t just inspired by the 2016 shooting in Dallas, but also Mike Brown and Tamir Rice and Philando Castile. And it’s also the mass shooting. We still allow a lobbying body in our country from allowing us to address the issue. I never wanted to be an activist, but I no longer feel like I am left with choice. Also, and I feel like I have to say this, I thought it was brave of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra to commission the piece because it’s not easy to put together an artistic endeavor like this. And I really do salute SOLUNA for being brave enough to put on this project with us.

Roxanne Minnish

How long have you been working on this project? What have been the most rewarding and challenging aspects?

We’ve been working on the project for a while now. The most rewarding part has been the way that people are responding to the idea. People are so excited, and many are quite anxious. They know my work, they know Andrew’s [Scott] work, and they know Rennie’s [Harris] work. However, they don’t know our work together.

 

What are some takeaways you hope the audience leaves with?

The main thing that I hope people take away is that we need to treat each other with dignity and respect. Fear is the enemy and a hatred of the unknown. We need to embrace those people who are not like us. I travel the world a lot and I’ve been doing it since I was 19, and the one thing that I’ve learned is that we are all more alike than we are different. I grew up in the church and I was always taught that we all have souls. I think we tend to forget that too easily. I hope that people can open up their minds and face their fears and meet new people.

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