Born Lena Douglas in Kansas City, Nora Douglas Holt achieved many firsts in her life. She was the first African American woman to earn a Masters’ Degree in music. She was the first African American member of the Music Critics Circle of New York and she co-founded the National Association of Negro Musicians.
Lena studied piano as a child and grew up around Western University of Quindaro and Wyandotte County, the first African American school west of the Mississippi River. Her parents were closely associated with the school and when her father wrote the words to the school song, Lena wrote the music – at age 12. She studied composition, musicology and music criticism there and graduated as Class Valedictorian.
She moved to Chicago where she earned her Masters’ Degree and worked as a music critic while also composing and performing. She changed her name to Nora Holt when she married her fourth husband. After he died, Holt moved to New York City and played an important role in the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s. Only 2 of her more than 200 compositions now exist because they were stolen from storage while she traveled. In the 1950s and 1960s, she hosted the radio show, Concert Showcase.