top of page

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-George


As we gear towards the hectic days of principal photography on the road, I rush to put on paper a few relevant notes, stories that I would like to remember some day in case they don’t make it to the Final Cut. The story of Joseph Bologne, could very well be one of those.

He might not have looked Black in some of the whitened portrait, but the fact remains that he was indeed a light-skin Black men, perhaps one of the most notorious mulattoes in Europe’s 18th century.

The person on the left is the Chevalier de Saint-George, son of a slave from Guadeloupe and her white master. The person on the right is the Chevaliere d’Eon, diplomat and spy who claimed to be a woman and wore only women’s clothing from the age of forty-nine. These two were renowned fencers and had agreed to a swordfight at the behest of the Prince of Wales, wearing the big hat and standing at the center left. This was a major social event, attended by many friends of His Royal Highness.
Painting by Robineau, who was present, apparently, at the match.

His name was Joseph Bologne often referred to as Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-George. He was the son of a planter and his wife’s Senegalese slave.The story of interracial marriages, even those between plantation masters and slave women were more frequent that in the Antilles and in the British colonies that what I had initially presumed, when I started learning about the practice, first next to Bettye Kearse for “The Other Madisons”, and most recently researching Black fiddlers in the during the 18th and first half of the 19th century. “Notorious in the Neighborhood” by Joshua D. Rothman is perhaps one of the most enlightening reads on the subject of “sex and families across Color Line in Virginia 1787-1861”. Regardless, not all mulattoes where as successful as Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-George, nor achieve the same level of notoriety.

According to Wikipedia, Joseph Bologne was was a French composer, virtuoso violinist, a conductor of the leading symphony orchestra in Paris, and a renowned champion fencer. Born in the then French colony of Guadalupe. Where he was just seven years of age, his father took him to Paris and dropped him off at a boarding school. Years later will join the Légion St.-Georges, the first all-black regiment in Europe, fighting on the side of the Republic.

Faithful to his French DNI, he will be remembered by a love interest of his as someone who was "admired for his fencing and riding prowess, he served as a model to young sportsmen (someone) who formed a court around him. A fine dancer, Saint-Georges was welcomed at balls and boudoirs of “highborn" ladies. He loved and was loved."

Joseph Bologne composed string quartets (His Violin Concerto in a Major, Op.5 served as underscore in a recent a scene I was editing for "Black Fiddlers"), operas. The first critical edition of his lone surviving opera, L'Amant anonyme (The Anonymous Lover), was prepared by Opera Ritrovata for streaming performance by Los Angeles Opera and the Colburn School in November 2020 (Wikipedia).

Today he’s remembered as the first Black-European composer if one is to consider that George Bridgetower was just twenty-two by the time that Bologne died. Bridgetower is another interesting composter which unlike Chevalier de Saint-George we shall visit in "Black Fiddlers” with the help of Nicole Cherry from the University of Texas, and Rita Dove, author of "Sonata Mulatica". However, going back to Bologne, also referred to as the Black Mozart, it will be fair to say that he seemed to be a more complex individual, a man of war and and strong political stands, a fencer, a dancer and, of ofcourse, a composer.

87 views0 comments


bottom of page