Champion

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Posted by Seán Collins on 12 Aug 2013
 

 

photo: Charles Hoff/NY Daily News
photo: Charles Hoff/NY Daily News

 

Emile Griffith died earlier this summer. He was a boxer — a welterweight and middleweight world record holder. He battled his sexuality, too. In 1962, after Benny “The Kid” Paret used a Spanish vulgarism to refer to Griffith, he beat him to death.

 

 
The fight was a slugfest, and Paret nearly ended things in the sixth round. But after six more rounds, things ended for Paret as Griffith punched him senseless against the ropes, sending him into a coma from which he never emerged. He died ten days later. Norman Mailer, who was also in attendance that night in a ringside seat, wrote, “As he took those eighteen punches something happened to everyone who was in psychic range of the event. Some part of his death reached out to us. … As he went down, the sound of Griffith’s punches echoed in the mind like a heavy axe in the distance chopping into a wet log.” Mailer summed things up with the following words: “Paret died on his feet.”

 

—”Death at the Garden” by Jonathan Coleman, The New Yorker
 

 

photo: OTSL
photo: OTSL
Terence Blanchard & “Champion”

The story of Emile Griffith is the subject of the opera “Champion” by jazz trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard.

It received its debut this summer by Opera Theater of Saint Louis.

Blanchard talks with Gwen this week about the “opera in Jazz,” about Emile Griffith’s life, and about the place opera had in Blanchard’s home in the New Orleans neighborhood of Pontchartrain Park.

They also talk quite a bit about Blanchard’s early days with Lionel Hampton & Art Blakey.

Tune in Thursday evening at seven o’clock (or Saturday at Noon) on WWNO 89.9 FM when jazz trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard is the guest.