Skidmore alumni and faculty have had an auspicious year already. Earlier this month, Skidmore alum Emily Lazar made history by becoming the first woman to win a Grammy in the Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical category for her work on Beck album Colors. Now, with the 91st Academy Awards telecast set to air on Sunday, February 24, jazz trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard, who’s taught at Skidmore over the years as a guest artist and faculty member, is up for Best Original Score for his work on the soundtrack for Spike Lee’s most recent film, BlacKkKlansman.
The veteran jazz musician and composer has a long relationship with Skidmore College. In 2008, Blanchard was invited by then Dean of Special Programs Don McCormack to teach on campus as Skidmore’s McCormack Artist-Scholar-in-Residence. Blanchard’s residency was part of a special program of study for the 2008 incoming class’ First-Year-Experience, which centered on New Orleans’ recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Blanchard’s album, A Tale of God’s Will: A Requiem for Katrina, which was a Grammy-winner that year, was assigned “reading” for the students. “It was a really remarkable experience, and we did a great concert at the end of my residency there,” Blanchard tells saratoga living. He was so impressed by his experience with the students that Skidmore even brought him back as a commencement speaker at that same class’ graduation in 2012, where Blanchard, himself, was awarded an honorary degree. “I love that college,” Blanchard says. “I talked about that experience for the longest time. Those students had some brilliant questions, and it felt like the experience was more for me than for them.”
While Blanchard is up for his first Oscar, he isn’t new to the awards scene. Earlier this month, on the same night Lazar won her historic Grammy, Blanchard won his sixth for Best Instrumental Composition for “Blut und Boden (Blood and Soil),” also from BlacKkKlansman. Blanchard wasn’t able to accept his Grammy in person, because he was at the BAFTA Awards at the Royal Albert Hall in London the same night, where his soundtrack for BlacKkKlansmen had also been nominated. The film is based on the true story of Ron Stallworth (portrayed by John David Washington), the first African-American detective at the Colorado Springs Police Department. Stallworth infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s by posing as a white nationalist over the phone. It’s been one of Lee’s most critically acclaimed films in years.
Since Jungle Fever in 1991, Blanchard has been Lee’s go-to composer, completing scores for 24 of his films and documentaries—everything from Malcom X to the moving documentary series When the Levees Broke, about Blanchard’s hometown of New Orleans being devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Blanchard tells saratoga living that he got his start with Lee as a studio musician for one of Lee’s soundtracks. “Spike Lee says it’s fate,” Blanchard says. “One day he heard me playing something on the piano and wanted to use it. He asked if I could write a string arrangement for it, and even though I had no idea if I could, I said, ‘Yes, I can.’ And here we are.” Three decades and two dozen Spike Lee collaborations later, and Blanchard is looking at his first potential Oscar win this Sunday.
Blanchard will be attending the Oscars in Los Angeles on Sunday night. BlacKkKlansman is up for a total of six golden statuettes, including Best Picture and Best Director.
Update: Blanchard didn’t win the Oscar for Best Original Score (it ended up going to Ludwig Göransson for Black Panther). However, Spike Lee did take home the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, his first Oscar career win.