Chevalier de Sainte George

When Afro-French composer Chevalier died in 1799, he had accomplished a great deal. Not only was he an well respected musician, conductor and composer, but he was also an expert fencer and a regular in the court of King Louis XV.  Yet despite his accomplishments, he was not immune from racism.  He and his black mother had to register with the French government, as France was trying to limit the number of Africans moving to the country at that time.  He was also rejected for a conducting position with the Paris Opera due to his ethnicity.  In spite of this he continued to be a successful musician and a champion for Black freedom, helping to found French anti-slavery group.  Although the son of a White French aristocrat, he survived the French Revolution and continued to conduct toward the end of his life.

This hidden part of Black history was on display during the Black history month concert at the Nannie Helen Burroughs music school in Washington DC. Musicians from the DC Strings Workshop, along with other local musicians, performed Chevalier de Saint-Georges’ String Quartet Opus 1, No. 1.  After a brief introduction to the piece by the schools head of the Ottley School of Music, Nevilla Ottley, DC Strings performed the piece and afterwards was greeted with applause. The piece came toward the end of an evening celebration of music by students of the music school, singing songs from various genres, from musicals to spirituals.  Hopefully, learning about and hearing music from one of the great hidden gems of classical music history, inspired the students to overcome obstacles to be great musicians themselves.

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