The history of the guitar in the Americas is arguably a story still to be told. Europe is the birthplace of the guitar and where much of the classical guitar’s repertoire is drawn. As a guitar student decades ago, the history of pre-twentieth century America was not part of the curriculum and no one seemed to care or ask why. It was assumed that America was not part of the guitar’s historical narrative prior to 1900.
A renewed awareness during COVID of the unfair challenges facing African Americans over half a century after the end of Jim Crow, inspired me to explore the fascinating story of America’s own jewel of the antebellum era, Justin Holland. I remember my surprise and shock when first discovering Holland. This was a story that needed telling with a louder voice. I then searched for an African American classical guitarist – a difficult task! With great fortune, I found Christopher Mallett in the San Francisco Bay Area. Chris is an outstanding guitarist and a leading authority on the life of Holland and his music. Chris agreed to be interviewed and perform Holland’s Carnival of Venice variations. What followed was a history lesson of extraordinary significance.