Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Jazz Pianist Created Joy from the Keyboard Nov. 22, 1922 - Feb. 22, 2018

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Jazz Pianist Created Joy from the Keyboard Nov. 22, 1922 - Feb. 22, 2018

Article excerpt

As a young pianist in North Carolina, George H. Spaulding imitated Edward "Duke" Ellington's chord structures and modern harmonies so well that people began calling him "Duke."

Until a few months ago, he was still playing Ellington's composition "Come Sunday" and the hymn "How Firm a Foundation." Someone else will play those songs at his funeral Friday.

Mr. Spaulding died Feb. 22 of congestive heart failure at age 95.

The Wilkinsburg man was known for his seriousness at the keyboard. "Smiling ain't what you're paying for," he would say. Yet the joy he created at the keyboard sounded from his heart, and it never left him.

Harry Clark, president of the African American Jazz Preservation Society, recalled how Mr. Spaulding would close out every reunion of Local 471 of Black Musicians of the American Federation of Musicians."He needed assistance to move, but when he sat down at the piano, all that went away. He played magnificently."

Mr. Spaulding was equally proud of his "real" job. For more than 40 years, he was a technician for Baldwin Piano Co., and the only African-American one.

"In the 1950s, for an African-American man to go into a white home -especially if the man was not home -was unheard of," said his daughter, Simone Spaulding Cephas of Wilkinsburg. "He had to tread very lightly."

A longtime member of the American Guild of Organists -where again he was the only African-American -Mr. Spaulding was famous for his humility and strong belief in passing on what he knew to successive generations. His six children took piano lessons and so did many of his grandchildren.

"I played piano because of Pap-Pap," said granddaughter Tara Burnham Smith of Middletown, Del. "Watching him play, you can't resist that fever catching you."

Her mother, Georgette Burnham of Valley Forge, recalled using the marble hearth of the living room fireplace as a stage when she would sing along with her father at the baby grand piano. Since he tuned pianos for the likes of Liberace and The Temptations, he got the girls tickets and sometimes backstage passes for their Pittsburgh concerts.

"Most African-Americans didn't have that opportunity in the 1970s," Ms. …

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