Justin Holland

Justin Holland (1819-1887) was a 19th-century American classical guitarist. He was born to free black parents in Virginia.  After his parents’ deaths, the area was affected by the Nat Turner Rebellion (1831) which first led to a police bill that denied free blacks trials by jury and made any free blacks convicted of a crime subject to sale into slavery and relocation. Following the Rebellion, the General Assembly passed legislation making it “unlawful to teach reading and writing to slaves, free blacks, or mulattoes,” and restricting all blacks from holding religious meetings without the presence of a licensed white minister. 

In 1833 he left Virginia for Massachusetts. In Boston, although he met and studied with musicians who were to be great influences on his career, he had to work hard as a manual laborer to make enough money to afford his education. At the age of 20, went to Oberlin College to study and remained there for 2 years, then travelled to Mexico to learn Spanish and more about the school of Spanish guitar playing. Returning to the U.S., he settled down in Cleveland and taught music and arranged  music for guitar.  He became known nationally for his arrangements, which were issued in collections of approximately 20 pieces, including Winter Evenings, Gems for the Guitar, Boquet of Melodies, and Flowers of Melody.[5] He also arranged about 30 duos for two guitars and another 30 for guitar and violin. 

Holland devoted his life to making conditions better for African Americans, as a ranking member at national and state conventions, by working with the Underground Railroad, as well as with Frederick Douglass. He attempted to advance the acceptance of black members into the American Freemasons by gaining recognition from European and Central American chapters. He was secretary in charge of the "Central American Land Company", an organization which unsuccessfully attempted to purchase sufficient land in Central America to institute a free black colony (ultimately Central American colonization was opposed by foreign diplomats of those countries, and in 1858 Haiti offered free passage and aid for black settlers and emigrants began moving there). 

He was an important guitarist of his generation. Over 300 of his guitar arrangements were published. His earlier editions predate the Civil War. He would have been a household name to anyone who played guitar in that era of home music-making. 

The video posted here is an interesting story in and of itself, you can read about it by clicking here: