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When we tour historic spaces, we are often told to pay attention to the things we can see or read. Often the everyday sounds of history are less emphasized or overlooked. The Soundwalk in the Hill District aims to offer visitors a deeper understanding of Pittsburgh’s past, illustrating how all sounds in our environment can reflect social values, community customs, and structures of power at a given point in time.

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The Soundwalk in the Hill District is exhibited in Frankie Mae Pace Park, an elevated public park in that sits between Bedford Avenue, Washington Plaza and Centre Avenue. The installation focuses on the period when Frankie Mae and Charles Henry Pace settled in Pittsburgh and were active as community leaders and musical entrepreneurs, from the 1930s to the 1960s. During this era, the Hill District’s predominantly African American community witnessed the achievements of local leaders and institutions. By the 1930s, the Pittsburgh Courier became the most widely-circulated African American newspaper in the nation. The Crawford Grill became an acclaimed jazz landmark as it featured legends like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Art Blakey on its stage. Meanwhile, the community also faced adversity and loss as the Lower Hill neighborhood was leveled by urban redevelopers, propelling Frankie Mae Pace to lead protests and to voice concerns that were finally heard by public officials. This project celebrates the sounds of the Hill District, offering sonic glimpses of everyday life while also re-creating some special historic moments. 


Students are pictured visiting Frankie Mae Pace Park for the first time in the cold month of January.

Fifteen graduate and upper-level undergraduate students from Duquesne, led by Assistant Professor of Music Nicole Vilkner, worked intensely during the Spring of 2024 to research the history of the Hill District during the mid-20th century.

Terri Baltimore, Activities Coordinator at Macedonia FACE Active for Life Center in the Hill District and former Director of Community Engagement for the Hill House Association, guided students on a bus tour to visit important landmarks in the Hill. The tour traversed Freedom Corner, the August Wilson House, the Crawford Grill, and the store front of Pace Music Store. Ms. Baltimore shared personal anecdotes, as well as pictures and letters from her scrapbook of Hill history. This tour oriented the class to the geography and scope of history in the Hill.


Terri Baltimore shows students historic pictures from her scrapbook.

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Dr. Kimberly Ellis, Professor of African Studies and niece of iconic Pittsburgh playwright August Wilson, led the class in a study of Wilson’s play The Piano Lesson. Her anecdotes about Wilson’s life offered insight into the perspectives of artists and thinkers in his circle. These ideas were powerful in shaping the way we were thinking about social matters in the Hill.

Students stand next to permanent exhibit in Frankie Pace Park, authored by Dr. Ellis 

In the research phase of the class, students continued to work with community partners Ms Baltimore and Dr Ellis. They also sought expertise from a broader circle of partners including, Phil Hallen (founder of Freedom House Ambulance Service), Dr. Christopher Lynch (Head Librarian at the University of Pittsburgh), as well as archivists from the Heinz History Center, Center for American Music, and the Carnegie Library.

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Students install Soundwalk exhibit in Pittsburgh's Frankie Mae Pace Park, situated between Washington Plaza, Bedford Avenue, and Centre Avenue in the Lower Hill District. 

We were delighted to hold our launch event at the August Wilson House, the historic home of the iconic playwright.

The August Wilson House is now an arts center, or as they like to say, “a HEARTS center.” Their programs inspire youth, artists, and the community through programming that is focused arts education, literary arts and Afro-centered activism. Their events explore August Wilson’s writings through seminars, readings, exhibits and performances.

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