Marvin "Doc" Holladay, was born January 30, 1929 in the Southeastern KS rural farming community of Chanute and raised there, in close proximity to Kansas City and its legendary early period jazz scene. He learned to play clarinet in the fourth grade under the stewardship of Al Brown, and took a liking to jazz heard on the radio. By 16 years of age, his favorites were established -- the big bands of Lucky Millinder, Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, Jimmie Lunceford, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Harry James, Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton, and additionally Louis Jordan. Holladay was enamored with the baritone saxophonists in those bands, particularly Harry Carney with Ellington. Out of high school in the mid-'40s, he then earned an undergraduate degree in music education from Phillips University in Enid, OK, and was drafted into the Army, where he befriended and collaborated with fellow baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams.
Subsequently attending the Naval School of Music in Virginia, Holladay met and performed with Cannonball and Nat Adderley. Making frequent trips to New York City served him well in connecting with the musicians he would later play with. He returned to the Southwest, teaching high school music classes in Texas, befriended the legendary saxophonist John Hardee, and upon a return to New York was re-routed to work in Columbus, OH, to Denver, CO where he was a member of the Jomar Dagron quartet with drummer Jo Jo Williams, keyboardist Dagwood Walton, and saxophonist Ron Washington. Eventually arriving in New York City, Holladay began his stay as a well-respected and active sideman, so much so that he placed in the 1961 Downbeat critics poll in the Baritone Sax/New Star-Talent Deserving Wider Recognition category. Among the many associations Holladay had in the '60s and '70s were with Frank Foster, Benny Carter, Duke Jordan, Tito Puente, Sam Rivers, Herbie Hancock, Charles Mingus, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Billy Eckstine, the Al Grey-Billy Mitchell Sextet, Bill Evans, Jack McDuff, Gerald Wilson, and Jimmy Smith. Perhaps Holladay's greatest claim to fame was work with the big bands of Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, Quincy Jones, the Duke Ellington Orchestra and Alumni Orchestra, the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, the J.C. Heard Orchestra, and his good friend, confidant, and fellow Baha'i Dizzy Gillespie.
After a successful 23-year career as a professional working musician, he enrolled at Yale University as a special graduate student, and pursued studies for a PhD in Ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University. Holladay's research concentrated on the musics of West Africa, with emphasis on West African flutes and percussion instruments. Holladay then moved to Michigan and Metro-Detroit to head the then fledgling Jazz and World Music department at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, where he remained for the better part of two decades from 1972-1988. His most prominent students were violinist Regina Carter and trumpeter Walt Szymanski. Though primarily known for his expertise on the burly baritone sax, but also quite able on alto and tenor sax, bass clarinet, oboe, English horn, piano, flutes and wood flutes, and African percussion instruments. His approach to jazz has been called at once natural and spiritual, his jazz a sophisticated, uncluttered, unencumbered music that is truly created, not forcibly produced. Holladay retired and moved to Mt. Pleasant, SC, a suburb of Charleston, where he led local combos, conducted workshops, and did concerts on the East Coast. Several years later, he and his wife Diane moved to Pichincha, Ecuador, making occasional stateside visits. His autobiography Life, On the Fence was published in 2000 by George Ronald/Oxford Press.