Wynton Marsalis

Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson

New Orleans composer Wynton Marsalis teams with filmmaker Ken Burns again to create the artful score for the PBS film on the dramatic life of Jack Johnson, the first black man to take the coveted title of world heavyweight boxing champion. Early 20th-century popular music featured traditional jazz and ragtime. Marsalis and his tight organic ensemble scale a bit of the Ellingtonian heights, overlapping sportin’-life music and country blues. They beautifully realize the pride and elegance, humor and tragedy of Johnson’s tale. The New Orleans brass literally and metaphorically meshes the dirge, rag, swing and stride pieces—capturing the saga of an extraordinary self-invented man who rose and fell in a (not so) sporting world, while insisting that he live a life as if racism did not exist.