Five Interludes for Solo Piano • Music by African-American Women Series
This immediately appealing 1920s work by African American composer Nora Holt (1885-1974) features syncopation, catchy melodies, and rhythmic impetus.
VIV 6501, 4 pages, $8.95
Click here to view a page of the score.
A Brief Bio of the Composer
Nora Douglas Holt was born in Kansas City, Kansas in 1885, and died in Los Angeles in 1974. During her long and productive life she was well known as a musician, journalist, and music critic. She was the first African-American to earn a master’s degree in music (1918), and was one of the founding members of the National Association of Negro Musicians, Inc. (1919).
She was the daughter of Grace Brown Douglas and Reverend Calvin N. Douglas, a presiding elder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1916 she graduated as valedictorian from Western University, an A. M. E. Church school in Quindaro, Kansas. While at Chicago Musical College, she studied composition under Dr. Felix Borowsky, who also tutored her in musicology and music criticism. Her master’s thesis was a symphonic rhapsody for string orchestra based on the Negro spiritual, “You May Bury Me in the East.” She began her tenure as music critic for the Chicago Defender in 1917 under the name Lena James Douglas but changed it to Nora Douglas Holt after marrying wealthy hotel owner George W. Holt, forty years her senior. She wrote an article advocating a national organization for Negro musicians which generated a great deal of positive response. Soon after, she held a meeting of musicians at her home and founded the National Association of Negro Musicians. At its first national convention in Chicago in July 1919, she was elected president.
She composed some 200 works including orchestral music, chamber music and art songs, several of which were performed by tenor Roland Hayes. Unfortunately, all her manuscripts were lost in the theft of her stored possessions during the 1930s while she was abroad. Only two pieces, the art song “The Sandman” and the piano piece published here, one of four “Negro Dances,” Opus 21, were preserved due to their publication in her short-lived (January-December 1921) magazine, Music and Poetry. In the late 20s and early 30s Holt traveled in Europe and the Far East, entertaining and singing at exclusive nightclubs and parties. During the summer of 1931 she studied with Nadia Boulanger at the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau France. She returned to the United States in 1938, settling in Los Angeles, where she taught in the California school system for several years. In 1944 she moved to New York, becoming the senior music critic for the New York Amsterdam News. Beginning in 1945, she staged an annual festival, “American Negro Artists,” on radio station WNYC, and from 1953 to 1964 she was the producer and director of radio station WLIB’s “Concert Showcase.” She was a pioneer in black music criticism and is credited with promoting an awareness of black culture and the arts among several generations of readers and with inspiring and encouraging numerous black musicians.
A Brief Bio of the Editor
Helen Walker-Hill is the editor of the Music by African American Women Series by Vivace Press. Formerly on the piano faculty of the University of Colorado at Boulder, she has also served as a visiting professor of music at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania as well as at the University of Wyoming. She has performed and lectured on twentieth-century music, African-American composers, and women composers. She holds degrees from the University of Colorado, Smith College, and the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris, where she also studied as a Fulbright scholar with Nadia Boulanger.
Since 1987, Dr. Walker-Hill has been engaged in research and performance of music by black women and her work has been featured on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition and Horizons programs. She and her son, violinist Gregory Walker, have recorded the music of fourteen African-American women on Kaleidoscope, Music by African-American Women, a CD produced by Leonarda Records.
Her articles have appeared in Black Music Research Journal, American Music Research Center Journal, Women of Note Quarterly, and American Music Teacher, and her book, Piano Music by Black Women Composers: A Catalogue of Solo and Ensemble Music, is published by Greenwood Press. She has compiled an anthology of piano music by black women published by the Hildegard Publishing Company, and a monograph, Music by Black Women Composers: A Bibliography of Available Scores, published by the Center for Black Music Research in Chicago. She is the recipient of a Resident Fellowship from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York (1995-96) and a Rockefeller Resident Fellowship from the Center for Black Music Research in Chicago (1997-98).
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