Focus on Black History Month – Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges

With a name like that, you would expect him to be dashing and handsome. And indeed he was!

The first classical composer of African descent we know of is the Chevalier de Saint-Georges. He was born Joseph Bologne on Christmas Day, 1745 on the island of Guadalupe to an African slave woman and the wealthy owner of a plantation. When he was in his teens he was sent to study in France and became well-known as one of that country’s most amazing fencers. It earned him a place in the King’s Guard and his “chevalier” title, as well as the nickname “The God of Arms”. In addition to his military career, the Chevalier was a popular composer, conductor and virtuoso violinist and harpsichordist. His second nickname comes from his compositional style – “The Black Mozart”. He founded two prominent orchestras in Paris one of which, Le Concert Olympique was chosen to premiere works by the world-famous composer, Joseph Haydn. Among his compositions are quite a few operas, violin concertos, symphonies, string quartets, solo and chamber works for violin and keyboard and about 20 songs.