Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, was an extraordinarily accomplished man in Marie Antoinette’s France. He was a scholar, a fencer, a virtuoso violinist and a famous and sought-after composer who wrote string quartets, symphonies and operas. His influence was vast, but he was all but erased from history books because Bologne was also Black, born in 1745 in the French colony of Guadeloupe to a wealthy French plantation owner and an enslaved Senegalese teenager.
At the height of his celebrity and renown in France, he even put his name forth to lead the Royal Academy of Music at the Paris Opera. Though qualified for the prestigious post, his appointment was blocked. He would later become a revolutionary and lead an all-Black regiment. Three years after his death in 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte reestablished slavery in France and many of his works were destroyed.