The musical superstar of 18th-century France was Joseph Boulogne—a black man. This inspiring story tells how Joseph, the only child of a black slave and her white master, becomes "the most accomplished man in Europe." After traveling from his native West Indies to study music in Paris, young Joseph is taunted about his skin color. Despite his classmates' cruel words, he continues to devote himself to his violin, eventually becoming conductor of a whole orchestra. Joseph begins composing his own operas, which everyone acknowledges to be magnifique. But will he ever reach his dream of performing for the king and queen of France? This lushly illustrated book by Lesa Cline-Ransome and James E. Ransome introduces us to a talented musician and an overlooked figure in black history.
Born in Guadeloupe, Joseph Boulogne was the son of a black slave and a white plantation owner of French nobility. When Joseph's family moved to France, he enrolled in school and, despite facing racial prejudice, devoted himself to mastering the violin, which he first learned to play on the plantation. In his lifetime, Joseph composed six operas (as well as other pieces of music), stood before audiences on the same stages as Mozart, and performed before Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Ransome's mixed-media paintings join tropical motifs with the sumptuous colors and prints of affluent Paris society, and his faces glow with vitality. Readers will likely marvel at why such a compelling figure has not received more attention. Ages 5 9.