Celebrating Black Excellence: Let Blackness make you better

Colour of Music festival in Pittsburgh, PA
My daughter Alena withher violin

Living in today’s times, with so much negativity, I think it is safe to say we all are trying to be the best we can be. So for Black History Month this year I am encouraging all of us to let the beauty of Blackness inspire us on our own journey. Let’s integrate the words, deeds and contributions of influential Black people into our everyday path to greatness. We will start with music.

It has been documented that children who are exposed to music training have increased brain function. Just having two lessons a week can stimulate grey matter, improve cognition and foster enhanced creativity. All this is great but as parents we know how hard it is to motivate young minds so I offer you the story of Joseph Bolonge, Chevalier de Saint Georges.

Chevalier de Saint-Georges

Born a slave in the Caribbean to a young 16 yr old mother and her French master his life took an interesting path. Although he was born captive he was taken to France and offered education. There with his mother he flourished. He excelled in his studies and took up fencing as a sport. This young man soon became a local champion of the sport. So much so that he became known as Chevalier de Saint Georges, which is akin to what one would call a knight to the king. He would be a star along the likes of Serna Williams. Blacks were traditionally excluded from the this sport of nobles but his talents propelled him to the top and demanded all take notice. He secured a place in society even though the times saw a rising resentment towards “gens de couleur”.

By Alexandre-Auguste Robineau (1747–1828)
A painting depicting a famous sparring match of Chevalier de Saint-Georges

The whole time he was wowing people with his renowned swordsmanship he was steadily becoming a respected musician playing the harpsichord and violin. He played so well that several famous composers of the time wrote dedicated pieces just for him. He was a conductor and composer himself as well. Saint Georges also wrote several operas and become a sought after concertmaster. The queen Marie Antoinette regularly attended his shows. However with all these accomplishments the color of his skin was still an obstacle. When he was offered a position as director of the Paris Opera several of the leading ladies protested, saying they could never take orders from a Mulatto. The scandal was so much so that after that point The Queen would only be entertained by Saint Georges in private concerts outside of Paris at Versailles.

Saint Georges sheet music

Turmoil in France led him to travel to England and there he became involved with the emerging anti-slavery movement. When he returned to France he formed Société des amis des noirs (society of the friends of black people). Which some speculate lead to a failed assassination attempt against him. He survived and became more involved in politics. When the French Revolution began he took up arms and became a colonel of an all-black regimen. He fought on the front lines and help defeat the Austrians in a critical battle. But instead being held a hero he and the other black soldiers were removed from service. They were sent to Haiti to help fight against the growing slave rebellions.  Fighting against other Black men seeking freedom was devastating to him and he returned to France and commanded his final orchestra which was widely praised.

Colour of Music festival in Pittsburgh, PA

This is just a brief summary of this man’s great life. If he cannot inspire a young child then no one can. And when your child says they don’t have time to practice or it is too hard remind them of the tireless accomplishments and adventures of Saint Georges. I have two daughters that play sting instruments. About two years ago we had the privilege of hearing an all-black orchestra play the music of Chevalier de Saint Georges. It was spell-binding. The concertmaster was a young black woman and watching her command the orchestra lit up their eyes. To see someone who looked so much like them was life changing. Representation matters and can be that extra push towards greatness.

My daughters with concertmaster Jessica McJunkins at the Color of Music Festival


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Lanae Lumsden
Lanae is lifelong Pittsburgh resident with a brief stint in Ohio for her high school and middle school years. Most of her life she lived in Wilkinsburg but recently became a resident of the north boroughs. Lanae holds an associates’ degree in fashion merchandising and a bachelor’s degree in business management. After college, Lanae, entered the insurance and financial services industry by becoming a licensed agent and a claims specialist. Lanae also is an advocate for cloth diapering and baby wearing. Through her website drybabies.org she offers information and sources offering cloth diapering to all women and families in need. With two boys and 3 girls ranging in ages from 18- 2 most of her time is spent traveling to ballet lessons, band practice, and cello lessons. Also, two of her children are special needs and require various appointments and therapy. When there is time left, she enjoys writing, sewing and cooking. She is currently finishing up her first novel with more already in the works. With a love for travel, Lanae and her family have been to 5 different Caribbean islands and 2 countries in South America. So, look to hear more about the organized chaos that is traveling with 5 kids.