Lake View concert celebrates 'forgotten' Black composer

On Sunday, July 7, at 3 p.m., Lake View Cemetery will present the second concert in its Classically Lake View chamber music series, “Cleveland's Forgotten Composer, Guitar Hero, and Abolitionist, Justin Holland.”

The concert will take place at the cemetery’s Community Mausoleum, and will feature Damian Goggans (guitar), a rising senior at Oberlin Conservatory, alongside Cleveland Orchestra members Liyuan Xie and Isabel Trautwein (violins), Eliesha Nelson (viola), and Tanya Ell (cello), with Jennifer Coleman, program director for Creative Culture and Arts at the  Gund Foundation, as the evening's emcee.

The chamber music series is under the artistic direction of Trautwein, and is generously funded by the Paul M. Angell Foundation.

The musical program spans more than 280 years of chamber music by Black composers, including Joseph Boulogne, nicknamed “Le Chevalier St. Georges,” a long-neglected contemporary of W.A. Mozart from the 1700s; forgotten Clevelander Justin Holland; "King of Ragtime" Scott Joplin; a recently published string quartet from 1935 by Florence Price; William Grant Still’s jazzy “Danzas de Panama;” George Walker’s mournful “Lyric for Strings;” and two études by contemporary composer Thomas Flippin for voice and guitar—both parts to be performed by Damian Goggans—honoring spirituals by Black Americans.

A guitar virtuoso, educator, and activist, Justin Holland (1819–87) was born to free Blacks in Norfolk County, Va. At age 14, after the death of both parents, Holland moved to Boston where he learned Spanish guitar, flute, and the art of arranging before enrolling at Oberlin College for two years of musical study. Unable to afford continued studies at Oberlin, Holland settled in Cleveland around 1845, where he supported himself as a guitar teacher, composer and, later, by publishing wildly successful guitar method books, transcribing popular Italian opera arias and more than 300 popular songs. At least 100 of his works were published by Brainard’s Sons Co., Chicago, a nationally distributed music publishing company.

Holland was one of the most influential American guitarists of his generation, yet he had another passion: working toward equitable and just opportunities for African Americans in the U.S. He served as an assistant secretary and member of council at both national and state Negro Conventions, where he worked alongside noted activists including Frederick Douglass. He was also active within the Underground Railroad movement. While Holland left America during the Civil War, he ultimately returned to Cleveland, which he saw as a place that would give him the opportunity to realize his dream of equal rights with, and complete acceptance by, white Americans.

Concert tickets, $35, can be purchased online at

Holly Sukol

Holly Sukol is the marketing and communications manager at Lake View Cemetery. 

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Volume 17, Issue 7, Posted 7:28 AM, 06.26.2024