Listen: 'Justin Holland: The Guitar's Black Pioneer'

Guitarist Justin Holland was not only a composer but also a civil-rights activist.Public domain

Justin Holland: The Guitar's Black Pioneer


February 22, 2022

One of the best guitar virtuosos of the 19th century lived right here in the United States. Justin Holland arranged and composed music for the guitar that would be played by people across the nation. Some of that music has recently been recorded for the first time.

Besides being a composer, arranger and guitar virtuoso, Holland also was a teacher, Freemason and civil-rights activist. He was born free and used his freedom to help enslaved Black people escape through the Underground Railroad; he moved in the same national circles as statesman Frederick Douglass.

American Public Media recently commissioned the recording of 26 pieces composed or arranged by Holland. Most of the pieces have never been recorded before, and 12 of them are included in this hourlong special — hosted by Scott Blankenship, with Holland expert Prof. Ernie Jackson.


W.H. Rulistun (arr. J. Holland): Rochester Schottische – Ernie Jackson, guitar

Justin Holland: Last Waltz of a Lunatic – Ernie Jackson, guitar

Giuseppe Verdi (arr. J. Holland): La Traviata – Michael Vascones, guitar

Ludwig van Beethoven (arr. J. Holland): Gertrude’s Dream Waltz – Michael Vascones, guitar

Vincenzo Bellini (arr. J. Holland): La Sonnambula – Michael Vascones, guitar

Justin Holland: Home Sweet Home With Variations – Mark Delpriora, guitar

Joseph Labitzky (arr. J. Holland): Elfin Waltzes – Mark Delpriora, guitar

Justin Holland: Peek-a-Boo Waltz – Mark Delpriora, guitar

W. T. Wrighton (arr. J. Holland): Dearest Spot on Earth – Keith Calmes, guitar

Justin Holland: Pansy Blossom Waltz – Keith Calmes, guitar

Justin Holland: Moonlight Mazurka – Keith Calmes, guitar

Friedrich von Flowtow (arr. J. Holland): Martha – Gabriele Leite, guitar

Justin Holland: Musette de Nina – Gabriele Leite, guitar

Gioachino Rossini (arr. J. Holland): William Tell Overture – Gabriele Leite, guitar


Ernie Jackson
Ernie Jackson
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ernie Jackson is an expert on the work of Justin Holland, including a book on the composer (The Music of Justin Holland), and is a music professor at Queensborough Community College in New York. Magazines including Guitar Player, Guitar World and Downbeat have featured him. He is also the featured instructor in the guitar technique instructional video Fingerstyle Funk. His other books include The Everything Guitar Book and The Guitar Chord Composer.

Gabriele Leite
Gabriele Leite
Heloiza Bortz

Gabriele Leite has studied at the Manhattan School of Music and has won several national guitar competitions. She is the co-founder of the Brazilian Classical Guitar Community, a platform for publishing and broadcasting online recordings of Brazilian composers.

Michael Vascones
Michael Vascones
Shaleah Feinstein

Michael Vascones, who’s also from Queens, has played guitar since he was 12. He studied at the Juilliard School and now is pursuing his master’s degree at the Manhattan School of Music.

Mark Delpriora
Mark Delpriora
Claudio Papapietro

Mark Delpriora is chair of the Guitar Department at the Manhattan School of Music. In addition to composing many works for guitar, he has won the Andrés Segovia Award for Outstanding Performance.

Keith Calmes
Keith Calmes
Godin Guitars

Keith Calmes has been performing and teaching guitar for more than three decades. Although known for his classical work, he has played guitar in a variety of styles, including surf, jazz, rock and Indian.