For those people who think classical music was composed only by white Europeans, there is a surprise in store for you!
Joseph Boulogne, or as he was called in his lifetime, “le Mozart noir” [the black Mozart], was born in the French territory of Guadeloupe, on Christmas Day in the year 1739 (not 1745 as stated in the video below, which has a number of inaccuracies). Boulogne was the child of Georges Boulogne de Saint-Georges and a Wolof slave, Nanon. In 1747 the elder Boulogne was accused unjustly of murder, and in order to prevent his wife and child from being seized and sold into slavery, fled to France with Nanon and Joseph. When they received a pardon in 1749, the family returned to Guadeloupe, but Joseph returned to France in 1753 to receive his education, which included not only music, but etiquette, swordsmanship, equitation (horseback riding), and literature. In fact, Joseph Boulogne was the darling of society, and was noted in contemporary documents for his romantic dalliances, as well. The elder Boulogne received a noble title in the year 1757, and should not be confused with Pierre Tavernier-Boulogne, the controlleur-général of finance. Joseph Boulogne was made a member of the Royal Guard upon his graduation at age eighteen, and was knighted thereafter. Boulogne was the first black colonel in the French army, but was dismissed in 1793, accused of using public funds for personal gain.
Joseph Boulogne wrote music firmly in the classical style; having been trained as a violinist, and being a virtuoso on that instrument, he wrote twenty-five violin concerti, numerous symphonies, songs, string quartets, violin sonatas, keyboard sonatas, a ballet, and six operas. He may have introduced the native Guadeloupe comb instrument to Jacques Marnier Companie, for which this composer wrote several works.
Boulogne was a rousing success as a composer, conductor, and musician, and was selected to conduct the premieres of the six Paris symphonies of Josef Haydn. His stellar rise continued until he was selected to direct the Royal Opera. Three divas complained formally to the king about being under the direction of a mulatto, and from then on, his career took a downward turn. Because of his noble lineage and service to the king, Joseph Boulogne was jailed after the French Revolution for almost a year, and then upon his release, was appointed the director of the orchestra of the Royal Palace. However, his career had suffered too much, and having lost his patrons, he died destitute on the tenth of June in the year 1799 in Paris, France.