M y initial experience with the New Pittsburgh Courier was as a freelance writer who in the spring of 1981 contributed a story chronicling the impact of the infamous Atlanta murders.
I started my full-time Courier career as a general assignment reporter in May 1982, but after just five months on the job, Phillip Harrigan resigned from the Entertainment Editor’s post and I was promoted to his position. As a professional musician who played the city’s jazz circuit with Tim Stevens and Al Dowe along with performing with a ‘50s nostalgic touring band called Delmonics & Company, the writing gig was a natural fit for me.
Fortunately for me, legendary columnist Hazel Garland and her daughter Phyl Garland would often show up in the newsroom frequently to impart their knowledge about Pittsburgh’s Jazz legacy.
Neither woman shied from mentoring the young, up and coming reporters in the newsroom and for me, they were my bridge to Pittsburgh’s Golden Jazz Era. Along with her nostalgic stories about the Hill District, Crawford Grill, Gus Greenlee and more, I would intertwine my own experiences and abilities to thread the past with the current pop sensations of the day. I also credit music historian Darryl Dunn for sharing his knowledge on Pittsburgh’s rich musical background.
Way before Facebook, Google and the Internet, developing real-life resources was the thing. Ultimately, I covered the 1984 Victory Tour in Cleveland featuring The Jacksons; the Bad Tour with Michael Jackson, Prince’s Purple Rain tour featuring The Time and Morris Day. I also reviewed the debut of the epic 1984 movie “Purple Rain” and the ground-breaking Civic Arena show featuring Madonna Louise Ciccone.
It was also a time when young lions like Spike Lee, Robert Townsend and Wynton Marsalis first made their marks. And today, they’re still relevant.
Hip-hop was on the rise and I had the pleasure of keeping in tune with Russell Simmon’s Def Jam revolution with Run DMC, Kurtis Blow and all the other New York City rap superstars.
Fortunately, the ‘Burgh was also the scene for ground-breaking hip-hop motion pictures like Breakin’ and Rappin’ featuring a young Mario Van Peebles which was filmed on the City’s North Side. Musically, I was also flexible enough to cover tours featuring Sammy Davis Jr., Stanley Clarke, Frank Sinatra, Marvin Gaye, Aretha, Air Supply and Phil Collins featuring the Phoenix Horns of Earth Wind and Fire fame. My first three airplane trips in life, occurred while at the Courier. I flew to Chicago to judge a Budweiser-sponsored talent show and took a flight to Dallas to attend a press junket to pre-screen a film called “The Hitcher.” Can’t forget the Las Vegas flight to cover the Harry Belefonte and Bill Cosby performances.
Personal interviews with Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Lena Horne, B.B. King, Richard “Dimples” Fields, Peter Tosh and James Brown remain engrained in my memories. Therein lays the value and significance of working for the New Pittsburgh Courier. Upon requesting an interview, rarely would these great entertainers refuse this small but great African-American newspaper with its monumental historical relevance.
At age 25, I had personal interviews with many of my idols and to this day, the moments are cherished. Sports Editor Eddie Jefferies was also relevant, because if he was ever unable to do an interview he would often send me as a replacement to cover for him at the legendary Three Rivers Stadium to interview people like Willie “Pops” Stargell, David Parker or the famous Steelers of the day, players like Louis Lipps, Mark Malone or Walter Abercrombie.
Although my career would eventually lead me to daily newspapers, politics, crime news and corporate technical writing, I will always cherish my first-time writing job with the historically-relevant New Pittsburgh Courier. And, I’m also proud to say that I still contribute stories to the paper upon occasion. It’s been a great relationship, through the years.
Oh yea, When we were oh so Young, Gifted and Black.