Accomplished Guitarist and Music Educator Ernie Jackson on the Musical Genius of Composer Justin Holland

Published: February 27, 2017

Justin Holland (1819-1887) was an influential classical guitarist, educator and humanitarian. Although born to free Black parents in Virginia, few who bought his music knew he was African American. Just prior to the Civil War, Holland worked alongside abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and is known to have worked with the Underground Railroad. Holland spent much of his life advancing the causes of African Americans, and being he was an educator himself, adopted the principle that education was the best method to overcoming racial barriers.

Holland published more than 300 guitar arrangements, with many pre-dating the Civil War. Both his music transcriptions and his original songs were very popular in America during the 19th century, and interest in his music has had a resurgence thanks to Ernie Jackson, a multitalented classical guitarist and professor in the Department of Music at Queensborough Community College.

“Justin Holland has been a central figure in my life for more than 30 years,” said Professor Jackson, author of The Music of Justin Holland (May, 1995). Jackson, a tenured professor, teaches guitar, music production and audio engineering, leads the jazz ensemble, and chairs the Performance and Lecture Series Committee.

Jackson received his Bachelor’s degree in classical guitar at Wagner College in Staten Island, and he remembers the day he heard a classmate play a very old piece of music composed by Holland. “I was struck by the beauty and complexity of the notes and ever since have devoted myself to sharing his genius in as many ways as I can, especially for the benefit of my students.”

Currently, Jackson is writing a proposal for a grant idea that would serve to produce the ultimate Holland recordings and, at the same time, demonstrate the musical diversity throughout CUNY. Jacksons’ proposal outlines a plan to invite a total of 30 students and faculty who would each be paid (from the grant money) to develop ten arrangements composed by Holland over the course of a year. The pieces will be about 4 minutes each, recorded on a CD, and distributed throughout CUNY.

Jackson’s academic career includes a graduate scholarship to study classical guitar performance at the Hartt School of Music in Hartford with Richard Provost and Allan Spreistersbach. He furthered his studies in theory at the Manhattan School of Music under the guidance of David Starobin. His other teachers included Sharon Isbin at Juilliard and Benjamin Verdery at Yale.

Jackson added that his own repertoire of music taste extends far beyond classical guitar. “This past fall I saw the legendary classic rock guitarist, Steve Vai. I’m also a huge fan of Boyz to Men and New Boys on the Block. This coming spring and summer I will be up front and center for Peter Frampton and then Paula Abdul in July.”

Jackson is the recipient of an Alumni Fellow Award from Wagner College for his distinguished career in music and education. He graduated from Wagner College in 1987.

There are several popular programs of study in the Department of Music including Music Education, Music Therapy, Sound Engineering and Digital Music Technology. Professor Jackson complements the work in the classroom with regular guest lectures by successful artists and producers, as well as scheduling trips off campus to professional sound studios.

Jackson’s many artistic and scholarly accolades include a recent invitation from The Metropolitan Museum of Art to perform on a rare (1860s era) 6-string guitar made by Christian Frederick Martin. He performed "Rochester Schottische", by W. H. Ruliston and arranged by Justin Holland. He is the author of several additional books including The Only Guitar Book You’ll Ever Need: From Tuning Your Instrument and Learning Chords to Reading Music and Writing Songs, Everything You Need to Play like the Best (Adams Media Corporation, 2014).

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