Born on March 13, 1962 in New Orleans, Louisiana, Terence Oliver Blanchard was an only child to parents Wilhelmina and Joseph Oliver Blanchard. He began playing piano by the age of five, switched to trumpet three years later, and played alongside childhood friend and fellow New Orleans native Wynton Marsalis in summer band camps. While in high school, he took extracurricular classes at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts with Roger Dickerson and Ellis Marsalis. From 1980 to 1982, Blanchard studied under Paul Jeffrey and Bill Fielder at Rutgers University in New Jersey while touring with Lionel Hampton's orchestra. In 1982 Blanchard replaced Wynton Marsalis (under his recommendation) in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, working in that band until 1986 as lead soloist and musical director. He then co-led a prominent quintet with saxophonist Donald Harrison, recording a handful of albums for the Concord, Columbia, and Evidence record labels in five years, including 1983's New York Second Line, 1984's Discernment, and 1988's Black Pearl. In the '90s, Blanchard became a leader in his own right, recording for the Columbia label and issuing albums like 1992's Terence Blanchard and 1993's Simply Stated. These albums found him balancing his love of the New Orleans jazz and bop traditions with his own increasingly distinctive and progressive compositional voice. Other albums, like 1994's minor-tinged The Billie Holiday Songbook, 1996's The Heart Speaks with singer/composer Ivan Lins, and 1999's orchestral-leaning Jazz in Film, also showcased his broad stylistic palette.
Also during this period, he developed a fruitful working relationship with director Spike Lee. Having first played on the soundtracks to several of Lee's films, including Mo' Better Blues and Do the Right Thing, Blanchard then composed the music for many of Lee's subsequent films, including Jungle Fever, Malcom X, Clockers, Summer of Sam, 25th Hour, Inside Man, and the Hurricane Katrina documentary When the Levees Broke for HBO. With over 40 scores to his credit, Blanchard is one of the most sought-after jazz musicians to ever compose for film.
In the fall of 2000, Blanchard was named artistic director of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Keeping up with his love of live performance and touring, Blanchard also maintained a regular studio presence, delivering albums like 2000's Wandering Moon, 2001's Let's Get Lost, and 2003's Bounce. Produced by pianist Herbie Hancock, 2005's Flow received two Grammy nominations. Also in 2005, Blanchard was part of pianist McCoy Tyner's ensemble that won the Grammy in the Best Jazz Instrumental Album category for Illuminations. The trumpeter also took home the Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album for 2007's A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina). By April of 2007, the Monk Institute announced its Commitment to New Orleans initiative, which included the relocation of the program to the campus of Loyola University in New Orleans, spearheaded by Blanchard. Signing with Concord Jazz in 2009, he released Choices -- recorded at the Ogden Museum of Art in Blanchard's hometown -- at the end of that summer. Two years later, he paid tribute to the innovative Afro-Cuban recordings of Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo by teaming up with Latin jazz percussionist Poncho Sanchez for the studio album Chano y Dizzy! The following year, Blanchard returned to his film work by scoring the soundtrack to director George Lucas' WWII action drama Red Tails. Also that year, music business legend Don Was brought the trumpeter back to Blue Note Records. Blanchard's first offering for the label was 2013's Magnetic, an album that showcased a new quintet and guest appearances by Ron Carter and labelmates Lionel Loueke and Ravi Coltrane. In 2015, Blanchard followed up once again on Blue Note with the electric fusion and R&B-infused Breathless. Featuring backing from Blanchard's band the E-Collective, the album also included contributions from vocalist PJ Morton. Returning to film work, he supplied the original score for director Taylor Hackford's 2017 film Comedian. Joining Blanchard on the soundtrack were pianist Kenny Barron, tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, alto saxophonist Khari Allen Lee, bassist David Pulphus, and drummer Carl Allen. In 2018, Blanchard was named a USA Fellow, and composed the score to Spike Lee's film BlacKkKlansman, which won him a Grammy Award. He also released the concert album Live with his E-Collective. Returning to film work, Blanchard scored the 2019 Harriet Tubman biopic, Harriet. ~ Michael G. Nastos, Rovi