“Le Mozart Noir” (The BLACK Mozart): Do You Know Chevalier de Saint-George?
The arts have always played an important role in the history and culture of African descendants. While many people today often limit the scope of Art within the African Diaspora to hip hop, rap, R & B, contemporary dance and all the other emerging contemporary musical art forms, African descendants have contributed to and have played important roles in all forms of art and have made important and significant impressions on them.
Joseph Bo(u)logne, Chevalier de Saint-George (December 25, 1745 – June 10, 1799) also known as “Le Mozart Noir” or “the black Mozart” was the first black man to lead France’s most important orchestras. A composer, conductor and violin virtuoso, Chevalier de Saint-George was born to a Senegalese slave and a French colonialist in the French-Caribbean island of Guadeloupe and moved to France at the age of 8. Also known for his athletic talents as a swimmer and swordsman, he was also among the earliest French composers of string quartets, symphonies concertantes, and quartets concertantes.
Chevalier de Saint-George’s gift as a violinist is often met with praise. In Arion CD 55445 (1999) violinist Joel Marie Fauquet declared that ‘his velvety talent on the violin sometimes gave him preference over the cleverest artists of his day’. His superior talents as Conductor of Le Concert was represented by the fact that he was declared as having “the best orchestra for symphonies in Paris and perhaps in Europe” by The Musical Almanac in 1775.
Despite his noted talents and success, Chevalier de Saint-George was not immune from the racism. When he was proposed as music director of the Opéra in 1776, many protested and made a petition to the queen declaring that “their honor and their delicate conscience could never allow them to submit to the orders of a mulatto.” In spite of these noted objection, he persevered on and became one of the biggest stars in 18th century France.
Bob Marley advised “Don’t gain the world and lose your soul, wisdom is better than silver or gold…”. Only through gaining knowledge of our rich culture and history will we be able to quire the wisdom Bob Marley spoke of. The story of Chevalier de Saint-George provides not only as an important part of African world history, but it also serves as an inspiration for aspiring artists.