Music and Poetry
Date of Publication:
Jan. 1921 – December 1922
Place of Publication:
Frequency of Publication:
Holt Publishing Company, 4405 Prairie Avenue, Chicago, IL
61/2″ x 8 1/2.” No. 1 is 18 pages of articles, sheet music, and poetry. Some black-and-white photographs, but mostly text. For No. 1, front cover design is a simple floral motif, and back cover is a full-page ad.
US (and US territories), Mexico, and Cuba: $0.25/issue or $2.50/year (and $2.75 in Canada).
International: $0.30/copy or $3.00/year.
Nora Douglas Holt
Libraries with Original Issues:
Emory University; Yale University (has, but is currently missing, microfilms of the first 10 issues; also has electronic version of vol. 1, no. 1)
Music and Poetry was the vision of Nora Douglas Holt. She published the first issue in January 1921 with the goals of 1) producing content for a music-loving, primarily black audience, and 2) encouraging African American participation in music. The magazine included mentions of African American musicians’ accomplishments, publications of music scores, and educational articles about various topics in classical music.
Holt focused on classical music and spirituals, as she “did not welcome the insurgence of ragtime, jazz and blues” (Karpf 166). Rather, her goal was to encourage and promote the work of classically-trained African American musicians. Holt also repeatedly printed a “Musician’s Creed” that stated, “I Will Use Something of Negro Origin on Every Program” (Music and Poetry 1: 4). Additionally, one page in every issue is devoted to “short, traditionally styled” poetry, as “Holt did not print experimental poems” and was more interested in how the two art forms were connected (Marek 114).
Sources conflict about the run and total number of issues of Music and Poetry. Only the first 10 issues survive, but “A note written in the margins of the inaugural issue… and signed by Holt states that the publication ‘ran until sometime in 1922 and altogether there were twenty-four numbers’ ” (Karpf 165n111). Its short run was likely due to the magazine’s financial dependence on the editor’s wealthy husband, George W. Holt, who died in 1922. Nora was saddened by its end and called it “a labor of great joy” (166).
Nora Douglas Holt uses “A Letter to Our Readers,” printed in the inaugural issue of Music and Poetry, to explain its purpose:
“THIS magazine is launched with the hope of interesting all who have or anticipate accepting music as a profession, and for those who love it for the genuine happiness it brings in feeling it as an art as well as a pleasure. And next, but quite important, of encouraging and nursing creative talent—decrying sham and vulgar apishness—awarding applause and support to all sincere artists who reveal the heart of a people through their native talent. For art is greater than an individual and only that art endures which paints the soul of a race [the magazine mainly highlighted African American artists] through its expression.”
On the subject of poetry, Holt writes:
“Poetry, twin sister to music, will be given a page to be treated in its relativity to music, rather than attempting to collect and exploit current verse. Poetry, like music, has rhythm, and worthy poems with decided motif and motion will be exhibited to encourage musical juxtaposition.”
These quotations taken from: Holt, Nora. “A Letter to Our Readers.” Music and Poetry, ed. Nora Douglas Holt, vol. I, no. 1, Holt Publishing, Jan. 1921, pp. 4.
Nora Douglas Holt (1885 or 1890 – January 25, 1974)
Though some details about Nora Douglas Holt, including her exact date of birth, are unclear, she was certainly famous for her adventurous behavior. Her life involved five marriages, nude publicity pictures, attendance at lavish parties, and performance in the Everleigh Sisters’ brothel. Carl Van Vechten, Countee Cullen, and Langston Hughes all either wrote about or based characters on her (Manheim and Schenbeck 182). Regardless of her salacious reputation, Nora was an exceptional musician and writer, and she used her gifts to advocate for and call attention to African American achievements in classical music among both men and women.
Nora was born Lena James Douglas in Kansas City. After earning a B.A. at Western University, where she was the valedictorian, she moved to Chicago and began writing for the Chicago Defender (Manheim). She was its first music editor and its first female staff writer (Schenbeck 180). At the same time, she studied at the Chicago Musical College, where she earned a second B.A. in 1917 and then a master’s in 1918. Both of these degrees were in music; she was likely the first African American to hold a master’s degree in the field (Manheim). While in Chicago, she also co-founded the Chicago Music Association and the National Association of Negro Musicians (Schenbeck 172).
Though the death of Nora’s fourth husband, George M. Holt, in 1921 brought about the end of Music and Poetry, it also left Nora financially independent. She traveled extensively, living in Europe, Shanghai, California, and New York City. Unfortunately, when Nora left Chicago, her over 200 compositions were stolen from storage. “Negro Dance,” which had been published in Music and Poetry‘s inaugural volume, is her only surviving work. After settling in New York City in the 1940s, Nora wrote for Amsterdam News and the New York Courier and hosted her own radio show. She eventually retired to Los Angeles after the radio show ended in 1964, but in 1966 she took a trip to Senegal to serve as a committee member for the First World Festival of Negro Arts (Manheim).
“The Kreutzer Sonata and Beethoven’s Mulatto Friend”
“Violin Department: Violin Technic” (Jan. 1921)
“The Late Horatio W. Parker”
Columns focusing on Claude Debussy and Camille Saint-Saëns
Nora Douglas Holt
Editorial pieces, including: “A Letter to Our Readers”
Essays, including: “Harmony Considered a Necessity in Music” (Jan. 1921), “The Chronological History of the NANM” (July 1921)
Her own (and only surviving) composition: “Negro Dance” (Jan. 1921)
Georgia Douglas Johnson
Musical composition contribution (Apr. 1921)
“Music and Poetry—The Noblest of Arts” (Jan. 1921)
Louis Victor Saar
“Harmony and Composition: From the Workshop of the Composer” (Jan. 1921)
Hilbert Earl Stewart
Composed a song (lyrics by Paul Lawrence Dunbar)
Other Contributors Include: Melvin Charlton, Cleota Collins, B. Consuelo Cook, Carl Diton,Roland Hayes, Kemper Herrald, Edward Francis Hill, Mildred Bryant Jones, Charles E. King, Clarence Cameron White
Karpf, Juanita. “The Early Years of African American Music Periodicals, 1886-1922: History, Ideology, Context.” International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music, vol. 28, no. 2, 1997, pp. 165–167. JSTOR.
Manheim, James M. “Holt, Nora 1885(?)–1974.” Contemporary Black Biography, ed. by Ashyia N. Henderson, vol. 38, Gale, 2003, pp. 86-88. Gale Virtual Reference Library.
Marek, Jayne. “Chapter 6: Women Editors and Little Magazines in the Harlem Renaissance.” Little Magazines and Modernism: New Approaches, ed. Suzanne W. Churchill and Adam McKible, Ashgate, 2007, pp. 113-117.
Music and Poetry. Ed. Nora Douglas Holt, vol. I, no. 1, Holt Publishing, Jan. 1921.
Schenbeck, Lawrence. “Nora Douglas Holt and her World.” Racial Uplift and American Music: 1878-1943, UP of Mississippi, 2012, pp. 171-208.
Compiled by Casey Margerum (Davidson College, Class of ’19).