We’re celebrating black heroes who made history, and I want to introduce you Joseph Bologne, who was born in Guadeloupe to a prominent French plantation owner and an African slave, but moved to France as a teenager.
Because of his elite skill in fencing and horsemanship, he was assigned as an officer of the king’s bodyguard and acquired the title Chevalier de Saint-Georges. This was a man of extraordinary talent. He was a champion fencer, master violinist and harpsichordist, classical music composer, and even became a colonel in the French Revolution.
By 1771, he became the concertmaster and music director of a leading symphony in Paris. In 1775, the Paris Opera was considering his nomination to be the next director. However, three of its leading women petitioned him because he was a “mulatto.” To avoid embarrassing the Queen, Bologne withdrew his name. Nevertheless, he continued to write and direct esteemed operas and classical compositions. Unfortunately, people called him “The Black Mozart.” It may seem like a compliment, but in reality, it was and is demeaning. Bologne doesn’t need to be compared to anybody, but celebrated for who he was and what he did. He was the first classical composer of African ancestry, and president John Adams called him “the most accomplished man in Europe.”