Pittsburgh’s Guitar Man: Joe Negri
By Rich Kienzle, Post-Gazette
September 25, 2011
In the late summer of 1931, two men exited a fancy black car and approached Mike Negri’s modest home on Kuhn Street in Mount Washington. Inside, 5-year-old Joe strummed his ukulele as 3-year-old brother Bobby pounded the piano. After listening briefly, the men knocked at the door. Mike and wife Rose, her apron stained from canning tomatoes, let them in.
Pointing at the boys, they exclaimed, “That’s the act we want!” The pair introduced themselves as Gene and Fred Kelly, local dancers and dance studio owners. They’d heard about young Joe Negri, who studied tap dance with another teacher. After the visit, his father Mike bought his eldest son a guitar, teaching him enough chords to sing and play at the Kellys’ studios.
Gene Kelly became an internationally famous dancer and actor by leaving Pittsburgh. Mr. Negri found fame, as one of the city’s many jazz giants and as Handyman Negri on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” by staying put.
Long revered for his decades of contributions to Pittsburgh music and culture, Mr. Negri, 85, of Scott, on Saturday is being honored with an all-star gala jazz concert at the Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall in Carnegie.