‘I loved a man’: Terence Blanchard’s first opera tells story of gay boxing legend Emile Griffith

NEW ORLEANS -- Terence Blanchard is known in New Orleans and worldwide as a prolific jazz composer and extraordinary trumpeter. Now, he's delving into the world of opera with the compelling life story of championship boxer Emile Griffith.

"Champion" will take the stage at the Mahalia Jackson Theater Friday (March), and Sunday, March 11.

Blanchard stopped by the News with a Twist studio recently to tell us about the opera.

He said the idea for an opera came when an opera theater in St. Louis was trying to broaden its audience.

"They figured that from what American opera is, that jazz should be a part of it," Blanchard explained.

Blanchard heard the story of Emile Griffith from a friend of his. When Blanchard read Griffith's autobiography, he learned about Griffith's struggle with being both a champion boxer and gay in the 1960s, a time when being homosexual was derided.

Griffith also had to live with the death of his opponent, Benny "Kid" Paret. Griffith had lost to Paret in 1961, then beat him when they fought again in 1962 at Madison Square Garden. The fight put Paret in a coma from which he never recovered. He died 10 days after the fight.

"There's a line in the autobiography that blew my mind. We use it in the opera," Blanchard said. "He said, 'I killed a man, and the world forgave me, yet I loved a man, and the world wants to kill me.'"

You can get more information on Blachard's opera, "Champion," and buy tickets here.