Visitors to the Center for American Music in the Stephen Foster Memorial shouldn’t be surprised if they find Joe Negri browsing there.
Negri, a nationally known Pittsburgh musician, has donated his lifetime collection of music manuscripts, a number of recordings, and other items to the University of Pittsburgh. These treasures now are part of the Joe Negri Collection.
A self-proclaimed “hopeless pack rat,” Negri said the decision to part with his memorabilia was a difficult one.
“My family was instrumental in getting me to give up some of my stuff,” he said. And now that his work is inventoried and archived at the center, Negri is more than pleased.
“If I ever need anything — say I want to see the score I wrote for a WTAE special on planting trees in Israel — I know where to find it,” he said. “If I had kept everything, it probably would have disintegrated.”
An adjunct music professor at Pitt and Duquesne University, Negri was talking one day with friend Deane Root, director of the center and a Pitt professor of American music history, about what he had packed away in the basement of his home. Root told him the center would love to house a Joe Negri Collection.
“In aggregate,” said Root, “the collection is impressive to see. Looking at all of the work Negri did for radio, television, corporations, and theater, you get an understanding of how a celebrated musician has created and maintained his career.”
Born in Pittsburgh, Negri began playing guitar as a child and went on the road as a performer in his teens. After a stint in the army, he returned to Pittsburgh and earned a degree in music composition from Carnegie Mellon University in the 1950s.
Negri’s collection includes his first composition — a war bonds jingle he wrote and performed with a friend while they were high school students in the South Hills — and an oral history recorded with Root. The collection also features many of Negri’s original handwritten manuscripts and arrangements of music by other composers, including Stephen Foster.
Negri still performs concerts for adults and children and believes his broadest audience comes from his appearances on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. He said he’s happy to share storage space with local and national musicians, many of them inspired by Stephen Foster.
“I’m really honored that they’ve taken my collection in a place I love and admire very much,” he said.
— Emily Tipping