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Marsalis Scores Ken Burns’ Boxer Flick

Wynton Marsalis composed and recorded the score to the upcoming Ken Burns documentary Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise And Fall Of Jack Johnson. The documentary, which will air on PBS on January 17 and 18, is a portrait of the first African-American Heavyweight Champion of the World in boxing, who lived from 1878 to 1946. It tells the story of his life, conjuring images and sounds of the early 1900s jazz scene.

The film, which features Samuel L. Jackson as the voice of Johnson, describes the difficult times Johnson endured, from white boxers refusing to fight him to his final defeat after seven years of holding the championship title by a man 10 years his junior. The film also portrays his life after losing his title, which included oppression and a year in prison for charges related to his “debauchery” with white women.

Marsalis’ score complements Burns’ film, capturing the intensity, passion and tension of Johnson’s life. While the soundtrack will not be released until November 30, Jazz at the Lincoln Center will present the Jack Johnson Festival on November 12 and 13. The program will begin with commentary and film clips from Unforgivable Blackness, given by Burns and Marsalis, and conclude with Marsalis’ septet performing the movie’s score.

Tickets for the Jazz at the Lincoln Center performances can be purchased online at or by calling CenterCharge at (212) 721-6500.

Originally Published