Two years! Time has gone by so fast!
This first blog post of April represents the second birthday for this blog. A lot has changed since then. The main reason that I started to blog was to provide a platform to build awareness for my novels about the Bledsoe sisters set during the years of the Great Migration. Well as some of you may know, that series will be published later this year by Samhain Publishing. The first book, A Virtuous Ruby, went up for pre-order sale this week on several platforms. It will be available on July 14, 2015.
So as I celebrate my second birthday and look forward to the third, I’m listing the places interested people will be able to order Ruby before it’s published (it will come to your e-readers on the morning of July 14). If you are able to, please pre-order. It will help me look good with the publisher! I’ll update this list when I know more about the print version.
I’m also listing the blog posts that directly involve Ruby and her history to help some of you become acquainted with her.
Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-virtuous-ruby-piper-huguley/1121695102?ean=9781619227415
Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Piper_Huguley_A_Virtuous_Ruby?id=cAbQBwAAQBAJ
A Virtuous Ruby is also available in the iTunes store.
Some history of Ruby:
The Cover Reveal: https://piperhuguley.com/2014/12/18/meet-ruby-cover-reveal-of-a-virtuous-ruby/
Ruby as midwife: https://piperhuguley.com/2014/03/30/african-american-midwives-and-ruby-bledsoe-a-shining-pride/
The Great Migration: https://piperhuguley.com/2013/05/05/what-was-the-great-migration/
Thank you so much for all of your support! I’m looking forward to the next year!
When I was growing up, New Year’s Eve was a time for family. We would get together at my uncle’s hours and play games to ring in the New Year. However, to many Black Pittsburghers, a New Year’s or even just a weekend night out wouldn’t be complete without going to Walt Harper’s Attic or later Harper’s, the famous nightclubs owned and operated by local jazz legend, Walt Harper.
One of the ongoing themes in Isabel Wilkerson’s book about the Great Migration, The Warmth of Other Suns, is that a lot of the success that African Americans experienced in the north would not have been possible in the South. Seeing other African Americans succeed, like Walt Harper, certainly inspired other African Americans to try. Harper was born in Pittsburgh in 1926 to relatively middle class parents, but from beginning his upbringing in that academic-rich section of Pittsburgh—Oakland—meant that he had ready access to all of the cultural amenities that PMI (last week’s post) and later the University of Pittsburgh, could provide to a developing young jazz pianist. His talents meant that he was able to travel all over the city and play for parties and proms. His engagements with Errol Gardner and Stanley Turrentine, jazz legends in themselves, meant that his reputation was secure.
He played at the legendary Crawford Grill, the place I discussed to two weeks ago. However in the late 1960’s (and I suspect that the building of the Civic Arena had something to do with it), he opened up his own nightclubs in the downtown area. He had engendered so much good will going around the Pittsburgh area playing those parties and proms, that it seemed like a long overdue move for an African American man to own and operate his own nightclub in downtown. He also played for the home Steeler games for years. He died in 2006.
This reflection on Walt Harper represents the end of my look at Pittsburgh music. I first found out about him when the Harpers intersected with my family when my cousin married one of Walt’s nieces–a story for the fiction pages.
When people speak of little girls playing back in the 1920’s, thoughts of dolls and tea parties may come to mind. However, one traveler on the road of the Great Migration was Mary Lou Williams. She was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1910 and came north to Pittsburgh when she was four years old. Her family moved to the East Liberty area, but she slowed determined to play her way out of her neighborhood. She was a child prodigy who played the piano so well, she was hired to play to entertain people and became something of a curiosity–the little black girl who could play.
In Soul on Soul, a biography about Mary Lou Williams, Tammy Kernodle speaks about the young Mary Lou’s talent: “The Mellons, one of the wealthiest families in Pittsburgh, also invited Mary to play for their parties, and she was paid substantial amounts of money for her services…. At a time most girls were playing dressup, Mary was doing one-nighters in Memphis, Kansas City and other parts of the Midwest…..By virtue of her talent, Mary was being saved from the life of domestic service and industrial work that had robbed her mother and so many black women of their youth.”
Some child prodigies burn out, but Mary Lou kept on going, playing and composing for Benny Goodman, Earl Hines, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie. Many have heard of these male famous men, but few may know of Williams’s history. She later moved to Harlem in the 1930’s and when she arrived she was greeted as a celebrity. She continued to have a working musician’s life through three marriages, and was considered the mother of be-bop (she had no children of her own), but few have heard of her. Why?
She received a few laurels by the time she died in 1981. Late in life, she had undergone a religious conversion to Roman Catholicism and established a charity foundation in her name. This talented woman’s life story puts me much in the mind of Mozart, even though she lived twice as long as he did. Yet, she remains obscure. As I continue this special series about music in Pittsburgh to the end of the year, I would ask: have you learned about someone obscure in history and wondered why they remained that way?
Okay, I’ve endured enough jokes. I was asked today, “Why Pittsburgh? Is it because it is the pits?”
Ha! Ha! It’s not as if I haven’t heard that one before, since I’m originally from Pittsburgh ….
Then there were all of those jokes in the movie 42, which was a fine movie except for all the Pittsburgh jokes…
Fortunately, when you hail from Pittsburgh, The Steel City, we can take one on the chin (except for the record for the Steelers this season, they’ve got to do better).
Living away from my birthplace for a number of years has permitted me a perspective of how unique the city is. It is the perfect amalgamation of East coast, Midwest and Appalachian sensibilities. Then, when you throw race and the shifting immigrant population into all of that, the potential for story conflict is huge.
At the time of the beginning of The Great Migration, Pittsburgh was the sixth largest city in the country, a destination place.
And, unbeknownst to me, even as a steel-jawed native, it was quite the destination for jazz. I mean, I knew that Lena Horne grew up here, but it didn’t really register until I did my research.
The story of the development of jazz as well as many other musical forms here, reflects the story of America, a setting that is potentially rich with conflict. So over the next few weeks, I will highlight a few of the figures who put Pittsburgh music on the map and made the city a destination during the years of The Great Migration.
And by the way. If you must know, Pittsburgh is named after a Prime Minister of England, William Pitt the Elder, and no, he wasn’t the pits. He just happened to have an unfortunate name. And the name of the city may be unfortunate, but it is a very special city. Hope you come by and visit sometime.