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  • Writer's pictureKimberly Renee

Nora Douglas | Musical Pioneer & Founder of National Assoc. of Negro Musicians

Composer, singer, performer, and music critic Nora Holt (1885-1974) earned a master's degree in music at the Chicago Musical College, making her the first woman to hear a master's in music in the United States, according to several historians.

Nora, born Lena Douglas, also co-founded the National Association of Negro Musicians with Duke Ellington's piano teacher, Henry Grant, and composed more than 200 pieces, of which only two remain due to theft.

Nora was born in Kansas City to Pastor Calvin and his wife Grace Douglas. At 4 years old, she began playing the organ at her father's church.

Before attending Chicago Musical College, Nora graduated from Western University with a degree in music. For her thesis at the Chicago Musical College, Nora composed an orchestral work called Rhapsody on Negro Themes, though no copies of this work remain.

Capitalizing on her keen ear for music, Nora became a music critic for the Chicago Defender, a prominent Black newspaper. While working in this capacity, she developed a passionate belief that Black musicians could benefit from an organization that would work to advance their needs. In 1919, Nora co-founded an organization aimed at accomplishing this goal, The National Association of Negro Musicians.

Nora toured Europe and Asia, playing piano and singing jazz. Upon her return to the States, she discovered that an unknown thief had stolen the original works she'd placed in storage.

During the Great Depression, Nora moved to Los Angeles and found work teaching music. Upon returning to New York in 1943, she took a job as a music critic for the Amsterdam News. Here she also hosted "Nora Holt's Concert Showcase" as well as "American Negro Artists," both prominent radio programs.

Nora became the first Black member of the Critics Circle of New York when they admitted her in 1945.



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