Living in today’s times, with so much negativity, I think it is safe to say we all are trying to be the best we can be. So for Black History Month this year I am encouraging all of us to let the beauty of Blackness inspire us on our own journey. Let’s integrate the words, deeds and contributions of influential Black people into our everyday path to greatness. We will start with music.
It has been documented that children who are exposed to music training have increased brain function. Just having two lessons a week can stimulate grey matter, improve cognition and foster enhanced creativity. All this is great but as parents we know how hard it is to motivate young minds so I offer you the story of Joseph Bolonge, Chevalier de Saint Georges.
Born a slave in the Caribbean to a young 16 yr old mother and her French master his life took an interesting path. Although he was born captive he was taken to France and offered education. There with his mother he flourished. He excelled in his studies and took up fencing as a sport. This young man soon became a local champion of the sport. So much so that he became known as Chevalier de Saint Georges, which is akin to what one would call a knight to the king. He would be a star along the likes of Serna Williams. Blacks were traditionally excluded from the this sport of nobles but his talents propelled him to the top and demanded all take notice. He secured a place in society even though the times saw a rising resentment towards “gens de couleur”.
The whole time he was wowing people with his renowned swordsmanship he was steadily becoming a respected musician playing the harpsichord and violin. He played so well that several famous composers of the time wrote dedicated pieces just for him. He was a conductor and composer himself as well. Saint Georges also wrote several operas and become a sought after concertmaster. The queen Marie Antoinette regularly attended his shows. However with all these accomplishments the color of his skin was still an obstacle. When he was offered a position as director of the Paris Opera several of the leading ladies protested, saying they could never take orders from a Mulatto. The scandal was so much so that after that point The Queen would only be entertained by Saint Georges in private concerts outside of Paris at Versailles.
Turmoil in France led him to travel to England and there he became involved with the emerging anti-slavery movement. When he returned to France he formed Société des amis des noirs (society of the friends of black people). Which some speculate lead to a failed assassination attempt against him. He survived and became more involved in politics. When the French Revolution began he took up arms and became a colonel of an all-black regimen. He fought on the front lines and help defeat the Austrians in a critical battle. But instead being held a hero he and the other black soldiers were removed from service. They were sent to Haiti to help fight against the growing slave rebellions. Fighting against other Black men seeking freedom was devastating to him and he returned to France and commanded his final orchestra which was widely praised.
This is just a brief summary of this man’s great life. If he cannot inspire a young child then no one can. And when your child says they don’t have time to practice or it is too hard remind them of the tireless accomplishments and adventures of Saint Georges. I have two daughters that play sting instruments. About two years ago we had the privilege of hearing an all-black orchestra play the music of Chevalier de Saint Georges. It was spell-binding. The concertmaster was a young black woman and watching her command the orchestra lit up their eyes. To see someone who looked so much like them was life changing. Representation matters and can be that extra push towards greatness.