Watch WFMT’s Classical Conversation With ‘Approaching Ali’ Composer D. J. Sparr and Star Soloman Howard


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Soloman Howard in the title role of 'Approaching Ali' (Photo: Scott Suchman)

How do you put the life of one of the most important, most charismatic, most unique figures in American (not just sports) history into music? As WFMT learned in the latest in its Classical Conversations series, it is no easy task.

In conjunction with the upcoming premiere of Ken Burns's latest documentary, Muhammad Ali, which premieres on WTTW on Sunday, September 19, WFMT general manager George Preston welcomed composer D. J. Sparr and bass Soloman Howard for a probing virtual discussion on opera, sports, race relations, and anti-war protests. Sparr was inspired by the life and career of the "People's Champion" and composed the one-act chamber opera Approaching Ali, which has starred Soloman Howard in the title role since its 2013 premiere at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Over the course of the hour-long discussion, we get a sense of just how much Ali changed both artists' lives.