Born to an upper-class family in Latvia, Johanna Spector lost her husband, brother, and parents in the Holocaust; she herself was imprisoned in a series of concentration camps. After World War II, Spector immigrated to the United States. She dedicated the rest of her life to the study of Jewish music, seeking to understand and to preserve this element of Jewish culture. With a doctorate from Hebrew Union College and later a Master's degree from Columbia University, Spector taught for two years at Hebrew University in Jerusalem before returning to the United States. In 1954, she began a teaching career as a musicologist at the Jewish Theological Seminary that would span over three decades. Focusing on non-Western Jewish communities like the Jews of India, Yemen, and the Middle East, Spector wrote several books, numerous encyclopedia and scholarly journal articles, and produced several documentary films about these often neglected and under-appreciated communities.