Composer, Musician, Swordsman, Military leader. Known today as the "Black Mozart", Joseph de Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, was celebrated by his contemporaries as both a violin virtuoso and one of the finest swordsmen in Europe. A prolific composer who impressed Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn, his works include symphonies, concertos, a ballet, and at least five operas, but he is best remembered for the distinctively lyrical violin and piano compositions that showcased his technical prowess. Born on Christmas Day 1745 in the French colony of Guadeloupe, he was the illegitimate but only son of George de Boulogne de Saint-Georges, an aristocratic planter, and his beloved slave mistress, a beauty of Senegalese origin called "Nanon". The child's extraordinary gifts became apparent early on, and despite the rigid class and racial barriers of the era, he accompanied his father and Nanon to France, where he was privately educated as a gentleman. A superb natural athlete who amazed the royal court with his feats as a horseman, marksman, swimmer, and dancer, he proved even more formidable as a fencer, and by age 17 was renowned as the best in France. His musical training, begun in the West Indies under the violinist Joseph Platon, continued in Europe under the composers Antonio Lolli and Francois-Joseph Gossec, and his fame on the concert stage and in the orchestra pit soon rivaled his reputation as a swordsman. A favorite of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, in 1787 he conducted the largest orchestra of the time in the world premier of Haydn's six "Paris Symphonies", but his appointment as director of the Paris Opera was foiled by racism. His military career commenced with the outbreak of the French Revolution, and he became the first man of color in the history of France to be named a colonel in its army. He initially served to defend the country from foreign invasion, but after the fall of the dynasty, commanded a 1000-man regiment of former slaves committed to the ideals of the Revolution. Despite his effectiveness and the crucial service performed by his regiment, the Chevalier's aristocratic ancestry and former association with the royal family led to his dismissal and false imprisonment for nearly two years. He later resumed his musical career, but enjoyed little of his former success and struggled financially. In 1799, he died at the age 53 of a bladder infection, possibly contracted during a visit to the West Indies. His body was consequently taken to the grounds of the "Temple of Liberte and Egalite" (the pre-Revolution and present day Church of St. Marguerite) for burial. More than 200 years later, following the revival of interest in his life and work, a Paris steet in the 8th Arrondissement was named the Rue de Chevalier de Saint-Georges in his honor.
Bio by: Nikita Barlow