The Untold Truth Of Lester Holt

In 1981, Lester Holt was a reporter at WCBS-TV in New York City. Today, he is the anchor for NBC Nightly News. From reporting live on the scene for a local station to bringing the nation the news of the day from his anchor chair, Lester Holt has seen it all: the front lines of Afghanistan, the Egyptian revolution, the oil leak disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, and Hurricane Katrina. He's also reported on the war between Hezbollah and Israel in Lebanon in 2006, and had a front row seat at the contentious presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Wherever news breaks, Lester Holt is there.

But did you know he plays bass in a cover band? Or that his first film credit was in a Harrison Ford movie? Do you even Lester Holt? We're here to help you ace these questions on trivia night. Here's the untold truth of Lester Holt.

He takes the term 'hot date' literally

Back in 1980, Lester Holt worked for KCBS radio in San Francisco where he was first introduced to Carol Hagen by one of his co-workers, as noted by Sactown Magazine. A self-described "news nerd," Holt would chase "news around Northern California in the station's blue Ford Granada equipped with police scanners and a two-way radio."

While headed out for a date with Hagen, the station reportedly called him to cover an "out-of-control forest fire in the Napa Valley." Instead of canceling the date (or informing the station he was on a date), Holt asked Hagen if she wanted to come along. "I thought, 'Wow, I've never been invited to go on a breaking news story before,'" Hagen recalled. "'A forest fire — that could be considered a hot date!' So I said, 'I'm game.' I guess I knew what I was getting myself into with Lester and his career." The couple tied the knot two years later.

He's in a band

One thing many people may not know about Lester Holt is that the news reporter plays bass in a cover band with a few of his NBC News colleagues. With editor Chad Bergacs on drums, editor Justin Cece and assistant editor Joseph Andre on guitars, digital journalist Julie Kim on keyboards, producer Justin Balding on saxophone, and editor Irene Trullinger on vocals, the group form Lester Holt and The Rough Cuts, a band known to drop a smooth cover song in and around New York City. 

The Rough Cuts made their television debut on the Today show on June 21, 2018, performing a cover of Jefferson Starship's "Jane." And while Holt often plays the bass guitar in the band, he does sometimes lend his vocals to a song. As reported by The BlastHester sang Bill Withers' hit "Lovely Day" at Hill Country BBQ in New York City on Aug. 19, 2018.

He made TV history

After filling in as a substitute anchor for Brian Williams, who was suspended at the time, Lester Holt was named the permanent anchor of NBC Nightly News in 2015, making him the first African-American solo anchor of a nightly news program. Calling it an "enormous honor," Holt told NBC he was "very proud and grateful to be part of such an unflappable and dedicated team of professionals."

Regarding Holt's performance during his time at NBC, Andrew Lack, Chairman of NBC News and MSNBC, said in a statement, "Lester has done outstanding work for NBC News over the last ten years, and he's performed remarkably well over the last few months under very tough circumstances." Lack continued, "He's an exceptional anchor who goes straight to the heart of every story and is always able to find its most direct connection to the everyday lives of our audience. In many ways, television news stands at a crossroads, and Lester is the perfect person to meet the moment."

Though Holt likely wishes he got the job under better circumstances, he understood why the network would naturally look to him to take over. Recalling when he was offered the job, he told The Hollywood Reporter, "The one thing I didn't have to ask myself was, 'Why me?'" He added, "I'm perfectly qualified. I have always thought that I can play any position in this organization. There was an [he mouths the words 'oh s**t'] moment. But not, 'Why me?'"

Braving Hurricane Michael

Lester Holt isn't content to just sit behind a desk; the Nightly News anchor will put himself in danger to report the news. That was the case in October 2018, when Holt and his crew were forced to barricade themselves inside a Florida hotel room to protect themselves from the devastation of Hurricane Michael. As noted by Time, the Category 4 storm sustained winds of 155 miles per hour, making it "one of the strongest storms to ever strike the American mainland."

"Put this mattress in front of the window," he instructed his crew in a video shared by the Today show. "You know we want to be on the air but we've gotta take care of each other, and so we're gonna do that." With the hurricane blowing outside, he added, "Know that we're safe, but we're going to have to sign off."

Days later, after Hurricane Michael ravaged through Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia, CNN reported that 36 people were dead. Lester Holt should consider himself lucky for staying safe throughout the storm.

He doesn't care if Trump likes him

In an October 2018 profile with Vulture, Lester Holt sat down to discuss how journalism had changed since Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. With the seemingly never-ending developments during the Trump administration, Holt claimed that "exhausted probably isn't the word," regarding how he felt dealing with the nonstop breaking news. 

However, as a member of the media, Holt doesn't let Trump's insults bother him. "Listen, I don't like it. I don't think it's helpful. But we just focus on what we have to do. If we're going to let things like that bother us, then we shouldn't be doing what we do," he explained. The only thing that "crossed a line" for Holt was Trump's labeling of the media as "enemies of the people." Holt noted that Trump's choice of words "could have an effect on the safety and well-being of [his] colleagues."

But Holt doesn't think journalists should let some people's hostile attitude toward the media keep them from doing their jobs. "The thing I like to remind younger journalists about is, this was never really a popularity contest," he stated. "It's a popularity contest in the fact that we're rated, and that's part of our world. But we didn't get into journalism to be liked. I don't do this to be liked. I do it to be respected."

From small screen to silver screen

After making his film debut as "Newscaster" in the 1993 Harrison Ford vehicle The Fugitive — while he working at CBS Chicago, no less  Lester Holt has racked up a ton of film and television credits. Appearing in such projects as Miracle on 34th Street, Primal Fear, 30 Rock, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and House of Cards, Holt has often either played a reporter or played himself. 

TV reporters appearing on the big and small screens isn't exactly uncommon — and some have criticized them for getting roles in the entertainment industry. A 2017 opinion piece in Chicago Tribune, for instance, argued that newscasters should stop doing cameos because it exacerbates the "fake news" debate. "No wonder some Americans are confused about what's real and what's not," the author states.

But ask yourself, friends: Do we really want to deny ourselves the guilty pleasure of watching Lester Holt ask gems like, "C'mon, how many one-armed men are there around?" We think not.

Discovering a painful part of his family's history

Per NBC News, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala. is an "11,000-square-foot memorial" which "features over 800 steel monuments with the names of over 4,400 black people who were lynched from 1877 to 1950." As part of the Equal Justice Initiative, the memorial serves to remind people of a painful part of American history.

During a visit with the memorial's creator, Bryan Stevenson, in 2018, Lester Holt learned that he might have family members honored there. While reading the names enshrined, Holt came across a familiar one. "My grandmother was a Houston, and there's a Houston here. I have to call my father but...," Holt said. In response, Stevenson replied, "It's astonishing to me how often that happens."

In a voiceover, Holt shared, "Scanning the names on these columns, a familiar last name from Bedford County, Tennessee stands out. Houston. It was my paternal grandmother's maiden name. She was born in Tennessee. And the John Houston engraved before me, according to family, was likely related."

"Got some phone calls to make," Holt told Stevenson.

Reporting runs in his blood

There's another news anchor in Lester Holt's family — his oldest son, Stefan Holt. A graduate of Pepperdine University, the younger Holt stepped into his first anchor chair in 2012 at the age of 25 on Chicago's NBC 5 News Today after only eight months at the station. 

"Since joining us last June, Stefan has distinguished himself both in the field and on the anchor desk," station manager and vice president of news Frank Whittaker told staffers in a memo (per Time Out Chicago). "His reassuring style and pleasant personality are a perfect fit for our morning team."

Stefan later moved to New York to serve as co-anchor for NBC 4 New York's 4 p.m. and 11 p.m. daily newscast. According to NBC New York, Stefan was honored with "a regional Edward R. Murrow award as part of NBC 4 New York's newscast coverage for the 2017 Tribeca terrorist attack." It'd seem good reporting runs deep in the Holt family.