The National Negro Opera Company — Black History Month

Early home of the National Negro Opera Company, 7101 Apple Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Neighbors dubbed the house “Mystery Manor” because of the famous comings and goings. This house has a rich history. Businessman William “Woogie” Harris, brother of famed Pittsburgh photographer “Teenie” Harris, bought the house in 1930. First, it served as apartment to famous African-Americans who visited the city but because of Jim Crow laws were not allowed to stay in other parts of the city:  Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughn, Cab Calloway, Joe Louis, Roberto Clemente, to name a few. Second, it was the early home of Mary Cardwell Dawson‘s National Negro Opera Company.

The National Negro Opera Company was the first permanent African-American Opera company in the United States. It remained based in Pittsburgh until 1960 and lasted until 1962. The interracial performing arts organization was founded in 1941 by Mary Cardwell Dawson (1894-1962). For twenty years, the National Negro Opera Company and its founder/director Mary Cardwell Dawson staged large-scale opera productions featuring African-American performers. Continue reading

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In Praise of Love…for Valentine’s Day

Considering You

by Amirh

Look here. I’m reading. Wondering.

Unraveling cotton, denim, from you. Your body,

I know, must be a queen’s banquet. A sprawl

Of maroon tastes & aromas,

Violet  textures & terrains.

Is it?

Tart, like Japanese plums? I ask.

They’re the color of pumpernickel, yes?

Tell me.

The Word

by Amirh

Be still for a moment

I am weaving a poem

from the silver in your hair

to be read in whispers

between windy nights of June

between purple dawns of November.

On the other hand

I could cast a poem of coral and turquoise

to be shouted

above the rebellion of rumbling waves

or the rattling bones of Cherokee chiefs

The air is restless and the bumblebees

have forsaken their flight

waiting for the first word to be.

In the beginning was the word of love.

In the end, only this word will endure. Continue reading

The Teacher and the Tattoo

Girl with full arm tattoosAbout five nights ago I was talking to two neighborhood young people, a guy and his girlfriend. I hadn’t seen them in a while and they spotted me outside, so we stood in the cold and caught up on things. The conversation soon turned to tattoos – her father had spotted tats that he didn’t know she had. The parents didn’t like it one bit. I told her that her parents, being Jewish, had a completely different take on and experience with tats. She went on to explain that they were from a different era and that things had changed. She also added that sometimes people disparage those who are tattooed, not knowing that each tattoo has a story behind it. That got me to thinking about an upsetting incident that I witnessed many years ago in high school. I must have been in the ninth grade.

Mr. Harry Siegal was not only my English teacher but the editor of “The Triangle,” the school newspaper on which we worked. The paper’s name was a reference to the shape of our school, Schenley High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Aerial view of Schenley High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Then, as now, I thought he was the finest teacher that ever inhabited a classroom. Mr. Siegal taught English and literature with freshness and sometimes excitement, especially if it was an author that he especially loved, like Charles Dickens or the poet John Donne. He was generous with praise and just as generous with criticism.  Around 5 feet tall, if that, he had a large presence in the classroom. He wore his hair parted on the side and combed away from his face. He was always dressed in a dark suit and always with white, starched, long-sleeved shirts, even during the hotter months as the school year drew to a close. The one thing I remember about him was his shoes. He had the longest, shiniest, highly-polished pointiest-toed shoes I’d ever seen on anyone’s, especially on a man of his height. The toes on those shoes could have picked locks, or cleaned ears. We didn’t know much else about him except that he was single and lived with his mother. We thought that was a hoot, for even in the ninth grade many of us dreamed of the day when we could move out of the house and leave our mothers (and fathers and siblings) behind. But Mr. Siegel was my favorite teacher, and even today, whenever I hear of teachers’ awards and recognition, Mr. Siegel’s name, voice, and form come to mind. Continue reading