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Before There Was Mozart: The Story of Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-George Hardcover – January 25, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Growing up in the early-eighteenth century as the privileged only child of a household slave and her plantation owner on a tiny West Indian island, Joseph Boulogne heard music from around the globe, and he learned to play violin. After his father took him and his mother to Paris, Boulogne lived free, although he still suffered discrimination as a �mulatto.� As he grew up, he became a gifted, feted student who was taught by two great masters and given a beautiful instrument before he played first violin with a Paris orchestra and eventually became its conductor. By 30, he was a star, the first musician of color to play for royalty and a renowned composer. An author�s note fills in more facts, but unfortunately, there are no sources included in this picture-book biography about a figure rarely featured in books for youth. The full-page, richly colored paintings give a strong sense of the changing settings, from plantation to palace, but most moving are the close-ups of the extraordinary musician with his fingers on the violin strings. Grades 1-3. --Hazel Rochman

About the Author

LESA CLINE-RANSOME is the author of highly acclaimed picture book biographies, including Young Pelé: Soccer's First Star, called "stirring" in a starred review from Booklist; Satchel Paige, an ALA Notable Book about an African American baseball hero; Major Taylor: Champion Cyclist, about an African American cyclist; and Helen Keller: The World in Her Heart. Visit her at

JAMES E. RANSOME is the illustrator of many award-winning titles, including Young Pelé: Soccer's First Star, a finalist for the NAACP Image Awards; Satchel Paige; and Major Taylor: Champion Cyclist. He is also the illustrator of Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building by Deborah Hopkinson, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor title and an ALA Notable Book; Creation, which won a Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration; and Let My People Go by Patricia C. McKissack, winner of an NAACP Image Award. Visit him at

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 5 - 9 years
  • Grade Level: Kindergarten - 4
  • Lexile Measure: 1110L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 40 pages
  • Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (January 25, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375836004
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375836008
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 0.4 x 11.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #939,293 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Lesa Cline-Ransome is the writer of many picture books. Her picture book biography titles include Satchel Paige, Major Taylor, Champion Cyclist, Young Pele, Soccer's First Star, Helen Keller, The World in Her Heart, Before There was Mozart and Words Set me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass. Other titles are Quilt Alphabet, Quilt Counting and her newest is Light in the Darkness, A Story about How Slaves Learned in Secret.

Originally from Malden, Massachusetts, Lesa has worked as a proofreader, fashion copywriter, publicist, teacher in the New York City Schools, and taught writing for adults. She has a B.F.A. in Merchandising and Management from Pratt Institute and an M.A. in Education from N.Y.U.

She lives in Rhinebeck, New York and with her husband and frequent collaborator, illustrator James Ransome, four children and St. Bernard, Nola.

Visit her website:

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Cyrus Webb TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I have to admit that before reading BEFORE THERE WAS MOZART that I didn't remember hearing the story of Joseph Boulogne. How thankful I am that Lesa Cline-Ransome and JAmes Ransome have given us this inspiring story in such a beautiful way that will not only entertain but educate.

BEFORE THERE WAS MOZART shares the story of Joseph Boulogne, a boy born into at a time when many were defined by what they looked like and what they had instead of what they had to offer. For him, life was a complicated dance between the challenges of having a mother of color and a father of means. The mixture created just the right circumstances, however, for him to be educated and grow (as well as nurture) a love of music.

The Ransomes have taken this amazing story and presented it in a way that parents can not only share it with their children but read it for encouragement as well. The message of Joseph's life includes the importance of walking in your destiny and never allowing what others think about you to define who you are. Because of his hard work and determination, he was able to reach heights and places that would have seen impossible to so many.

His story and what he was able to achieve reminds me of the prophetic words of Proverbs 22:29: "Have you beheld a man skillful in his work? Before kings is where he will station himself; he will not station himself before commonplace men."
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on April 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Nothing but Trouble: The Story of Althea Gibson

Before There Was Mozart, The Story of Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-George (by Lesa Cline-Ransome and James E. Ransome) [...] chronicles an amazing story of Joseph, who played a significant part in the musical style of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. At the time of his birth it was foretold that he would one day meet the king and queen of France. Joseph had a very inspiring life that would have a great influence upon his future and helped to create his signature violin style.

As a young adult he began playing in an orchestra, Le Concert des Amateurs alongside Joseph Gossec, one of the finest composers. He later received a prestigious position as the first violinist and timekeeper for the orchestra which consisted of forty violinists, twelve cellos, eight double basses and a multitude of flutes, bassoons, trumpets and oboes. Under his direction the orchestra grew tremendously at which time Joseph had also created his new violin technique, deux symphonies concertantes.

Later, Mozart went from watching Joseph to being announced on the same performance bill. The prediction on Joseph's life ensued, he peformed before King Louis XVI, Queen Marie Antoinette and the entire royal court and was invited back on several occasions. His credentials were outstanding from his violin performances to serving his country. The street, Rue du Chevalier de Saint-George in Paris was named in his honor.

You may see the outer appearance of a child but if you look closely you will see their possibilities. Mentor a youth, help them to channel their energy, give them hope and help prepare them for the future.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Affie on December 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have read "Before There Was Mozart" at least three times. I bought one for myself and one for my grandson. As a former school counselor who helped counselees to start thinking about careers, stepping out on courage, embracing racial indifferences, believing in yourself, the importance of encouragement, how to be persistent and courageous, find ways to be uniquely different, etc., I find this book to be an excellent tool for ages six years to adult. It's great for parents to learn the importance of positive words spoken into the lives of their children, also. I love this book. It is on my coffee table and made available for anyone who visits me to read. My forty-one (41) years old son introduced me to this book. I love it! It is a Christmas gift that I will be sharing with many loved ones this year.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By C. A. North on March 6, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My piano teacher loved this book as did I. We were both so pleased to learn of this young man's plight and his tremendous success considering the circumstances of his birth and life. Thank you for sharing this book with music lovers. We will share it with all of the children and even adults in our sphere of influence.
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