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The Verna D. Holley Project

The Verna D. Holley Project aims to engage the Greater Lansing community through the power of community, mentorship, and legacy in music. Named for the legendary Music Educator and Pianist Verna D. Holley, VDHP is comprised of four distinct parts:

- The Verna Holley Project Community Choir 

- priZm Chorale (Youth Singers 14-25)

- Piano 

- Research 

VDHP will launch the community choir on September 11, 2023! Please press the "Join us" button to register. 


Archival piture of Verna D. Holley with the Historic Earl Nelson Singers Company of Lansing, MI

Artistic Director, LaVonté L. Heard 

Mr. Heard, as the founder of VDHP (Verna D. Holley Project), will assume the role of its inaugural Artistic Director. His journey in music began as a student under the tutelage of Verna Holley during his childhood, and he attributes much of his career's success to her mentorship. Mr. Heard established VDHP to respond to the imperative of preserving African-American concert music within the City of Lansing, MI.


Artistic Advisor, George Shirley

The esteemed tenor, George I. Shirley, achieved historic milestones in his career. Notably, he is the first African American appointed to a High School choral teaching position in Detroit. Additionally, Mr. Shirley earned recognition as the inaugural African-American tenor to perform leading roles at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, a significant achievement in opera.


His exceptional talents as a performer and lecturer have garnered him acclaim on a global scale, making him a sought-after figure in the international music community.


Furthermore, it is noteworthy that Mr. Shirley shares a longstanding connection with Verna Holley. They attended elementary, junior high, and high school together, forging a lasting bond. His remarkable journey and shared experiences with Verna Holley serve as one of the inspirations behind the founding of VDHP (Verna D. Holley Project).


Meet Verna Holley 

Mrs. Verna D. Holley, a retired choral music educator, was born on April 29, 1936, in Detroit, Michigan, to Pearl Richardson Dorsey and Henry Dorsey. Her educational journey began at Dwyer Elementary School in 1948, culminating in her graduation from Northern High School in 1952. Mrs. Holley's dedication to her craft led her to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in music education at Wayne State University, which she completed in 1956. She furthered her academic pursuits by attaining a Master of Arts degree in music from Michigan State University.


Mrs. Holley's illustrious career in education commenced with her appointment as the Fine Arts Director at J.W. Sexton High School in Lansing, Michigan, where she made significant contributions to the Lansing Public School System. Her dedication to musical education extended beyond her retirement, as she continued to impart her expertise by offering piano lessons from her residence.


Mrs. Holley assumed the role of pianist and music director for the Earl Nelson Singers, a musical ensemble founded in 1963 by Earl Nelson. The Earl Nelson Singers Company, comprised of talented vocalists from the Lansing, Michigan region, became a platform for Mrs. Holley to curate and direct performances featuring sacred songs of enslaved individuals. Their repertoire notably encompassed the early "gospel" style, showcasing her versatility and commitment to preserving musical traditions.


Mrs. Holley's impact also extended to the Okemos String Program, where her musical contributions were highly regarded.


Beyond her educational and musical endeavors, Mrs. Holley actively participated in various associations, including the Religious Conference Planning Association, United Conference for Women, and the Capital Area Music Teachers Association. She resides in Lansing, Michigan, alongside her husband, Melvin Holley. Together, they have raised three accomplished adult children: Mark, Timothy, and Millicent.


Mrs. Verna Dorsey Holley's remarkable journey as an educator, musician, and community leader stands as a testament to her unwavering commitment to the arts and education, leaving an indelible mark on the cultural landscape of Lansing, Michigan. 

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