He was born a slave on a ship crossing the Atlantic from Africa to the West Indies. He was taken to Greenwich, near London, where he worked as a child slave. He persuaded the powerful Montagu family to employ him as their butler, an important position, before retiring to run a grocery shop in Westminster. He composed classical music, appeared on the stage, and entertained many famous figures of literary and artistic London. The first African we know of to vote in a British election, he wrote a large number of letters which were collected and published in 1782, two years after his death. He was thought of in his age as “the extraordinary Negro,” and to eighteenth-century British opponents of the slave trade he became a symbol of the humanity of Africans, then disputed by many.
Q: Who was he?
Can you name these other classical composers?
- Music director for France’s Queen Marie-Antoniette
- First African American winner of Pulitzer Prize for Music
- Violinist accompanied on piano by Ludwig van Beethoven