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Opera Inspired By Bisexual Boxer Emile Griffith's Life Set to Premiere in New York City

One bisexual boxer is having his story told in the Big Apple.

Photo Credit: Zenith Richards / Met Opera

Terence Blanchard, a Grammy-winning and Oscar-nominated composer and jazz musician, is bringing his opera Champion to the Metropolitan Opera in New York this spring, according to NBC News.

The Opera in Jazz, is based on the late bisexual, Hall of Fame boxer, Emile Griffith, who beat Benny “kid” Paret in a boxing match, and unfortunately, days later Paret succumbed to the injuries.

Champion premiered in 2013, and Blanchard harkened back to his intention on the project.

“It just kind of clicked when I heard a quote that he said, which is in the opera: ‘I killed a man and the world forgave me, but I loved a man and the world wanted to kill me.’ That blew me away,” Blanchard told NBC News, paraphrasing a quote from Ron Ross’ 2008 biography Nine ... Ten … and Out!: The Two Worlds of Emile Griffith.

“I started thinking about the first time I won a Grammy. I turned to my wife and gave her a hug, and wasn’t thinking about it. I’m just sharing the moment with somebody I care about. And he couldn’t do that,” Blanchard said, referring to his win in 2008 for the album A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina), which is the first of six. “He became welterweight champion, and he still had to hide in the shadows. Why? Because somebody else feels uncomfortable about it?”

Photo Credit: Ken Howard / Met Opera

Blanchard, a New Orleans native, wrote Champion as a commission for the Opera Theatre in St. Louis where it made its debut in 2013 in partnership with James Robinson, according to NBC News.

But why did Blanchard want to tell this story?

In the early 2000s, Blanchard heard about Griffith’s life from former heavyweight champion Michael Bentt.

Blanchard and Bentt said Griffith had an openness about his sexuality — including his struggle with it — despite being a Black Caribbean man who fought in a punishing sport amid a time when folks didn’t reveal their sexual orientation to the world.

“We talked about Emile a lot, and that was the thing that always stuck with me in the story. He was a bisexual man from the islands, and most bisexual men in the islands never really talked about their sexuality. It’s something that they kept to themselves,” Blanchard said.

Photo Credit: Ken Howard / Met Opera

Blanchard said Griffith’s sexuality was common knowledge among his peers way before he came out publicly as bisexual in 2005 to a New York Times opinion columnist, though. He said Griffith’s openness was profound.

Griffith, unfortunately, died the same year Champion premiered. He was born on the island of St. Thomas where he endured a traumatizing childhood before moving by his lonesome to New York City as a teenager in the mid-1950s.

In the big city and bright lights, he reconnected with his mother, who wasn’t there with him as a child, before being hired in the millinery where she worked. He was discovered by Howie Albert, Blanchard’s father figure, who would goad the troubled youth to a career in boxing, though he had much more interest in hat-making at the time.


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