In our rush to get to Thanksgiving dinner, we missed the anniversary of August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson.” 2011 winner Isabel Wilkerson reminded us through a post on her Facebook page (she’s just FULL of wonderful factoids about African American history), including a rare photo of Samuel L. Jackson (third from left), who starred in the play as Boy Willie.
It was 25 years ago today, Nov. 23, 1987, that the August Wilson play, The Piano Lesson, made its world premiere, starring Samuel L. Jackson (3rd from left) as Boy Willie, at the Yale Repertory Theatre. The play would win the Pulitzer Prize. In its scenes play out the legacy of slavery and the Great Migration…. Boy Willie arrives in Pittsburgh from Mississippi in 1936 and clashes with his sister, Berniece, who had migrated north.
The conflict is over an upright piano, which held the history and secrets of the family’s hardships in the South. Boy Willie wants to sell the piano to buy the land where their ancestors had toiled as slaves and sharecroppers. The sister wants to keep the piano because of the sacrifice at which it had come and the memory it contains.
The playwright August Wilson was a product of the Great Migration — his grandmother walked from Spears, N.C. to Pittsburgh. The play was inspired by a collage called “Piano Lesson” by another child of the Migration, the artist Romare Bearden….