AFRO-AMERICAN MUSIC INSTITUTE CELEBRATES 36 YEARS
Pain Relief Beyond Belief
We at The Digs lifted the lid off a box of color negatives in the photo library last week. It’s the first time we’ve really taken a look at decades gone by through color negs, and we wish we had started browsing these much earlier. Amid dozens of envelopes of fall shots around southwest Pennsylvania from the 1970s (expect to see some of that timeless color posted here later this year), there was one of greater interest: “Jazz in Pittsburgh, 10-19-80.”
Pittsburgh’s contribution to American jazz history is not as well documented as one might hope. The city’s two daily newspapers, the Press and the Post-Gazette, did not begin to pay attention to African-American culture in any serious way until the second half of the 20th century.
Cultural spots inside neighborhoods like the Hill District and Homewood were not major destinations for photographers and reporters (except for those who worked at The Pittsburgh Courier). That deficit in the PG’s archive made this single envelope more prized.
It provided a rare look into a scene that — at least in this particular location — no longer exists.
Because there was no other writing on the envelope nor negative sleeves, we must try to imagine what and who these photos showed. (And, please, if you recognize anyone in the frames or know someone who might, let us know in the comments or email email@example.com.)
The date: October 19, 1980. But that was a Sunday; that listing said Friday and Saturday nights in the Zebra Room.“Zebra Room”? Looks like we found the right place.
And so maybe it was a special occasion — one worthy enough for a photographer to go check it out? Either way, take a moment to look at those photos.
Really look at them. The faces. The joy. The clothes. The styles.The bowling trophy. The instruments. The lights. That just-about-brand-new Pittsburgh Pirates 1979 World Series champions pennant hanging on the wall. We wonder where that ended up?
Then close your eyes. Hear the smooth and lively jazz notes filling the air. And the laughter. It’s hard to imagine anyone failing to have themselves a good time that night.
Open your eyes, and here’s what you see:
It’s all gone. On the side of the building, there’s a sign for a market that’s no longer there.
County records show it was most recently sold in 2012 to a business named EILLAV MEHCEB NAE, LLC.
The price? $1.
Did you notice how well-dressed everyone was then? We didn't have much money but low self-esteem was not a problem then. It isn't just the building that has been neglected and deteriorated since those times.