Pittsburgh Arts Icons

We asked some of our authorities in the local arts scene to comment on these icons, whose roots began or were nurtured here.



The Pittsburgh region has produced many outstanding talents in all areas of the arts, people who have become household names nationally and internationally. We asked some of our authorities in the local arts scene to comment on these icons, whose roots began or were nurtured here.

August Wilson

Playwright, 1945-2005

“I think that the majority of people really aren’t aware of the power of August Wilson’s words and what he actually achieved theatrically. But it’s safe to say that what he has accomplished will not be rivaled. Through his pen, he has placed Pittsburgh on the map and made it a destination for admirers of his work as well as artists seeking to hone their craft on the ground on which he walked.”
—Mark Clayton Southers, artistic director, Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre

Henry Mancini

Composer, 1924-1994

“[Henry Mancini’s] romantic melodies seem to be limitless, and his ability to write a short, catchy theme was wonderfully original—the opening four notes of ‘Pink Panther,’ ‘Peter Gunn’ and ‘Baby Elephant Walk.’”
—Marvin Hamlisch, principal conductor, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Pops

Shirley Jones

Actress (born 1934)

“Shirley Jones represents the best of show business. She started out as a stage actress, became a movie star, and then cemented her fame as a legendary television mom. Her voice was always gorgeous—still is. Her performances were subtle and moving. Just watch her in Carousel and Elmer Gantry—polar opposite, but both definitive. I love Shirley Jones!”
—Ted Pappas, producing artistic director, Pittsburgh Public Theater

Duane Michals

Photographer (born 1932)

“Duane Michals is without parallel in the history of photography. As a young photographer, he broke the rules of the purists and began to write words and poetic phrases on his photos. Many in the finest art circles thought he was a flash-in-the-pan; instead, his willingness to follow his gut instincts allowed him to distinguish himself from the norm. Since the 1960s he has influenced hundreds of young image-makers who responded to his approach by loosening up themselves. We are extra-fortunate that he not only hails from our region but continues to embrace our city long after he established roots in New York.”
—Linda Benedict-Jones, curator of the photography department at Carnegie Museum of Art and a photographer

Mary Roberts Rinehart

Mystery Writer, Journalist, 1876-1958

“Mary Roberts Rinehart was the trailblazing mystery writer and globe-trotting journalist from Pittsburgh who changed writing for women from a hobby to a profession. Making millions, being on The New York Times “Best-seller List,” she demonstrated the market for the puzzle-plot, and early-20th-century Pittsburgh characters and settings appealed to all readers. A revolutionary in her time, she thought you could be a wife and mother as well as a writer. You just had to make time for both—and she did.”
—Mary Alice Gorman and Richard Goldman, owners, Mystery Lovers Bookshop

Martha Graham

Dancer, Choreographer, 1894-1991

“Martha Graham was one of the most influential modern-dance figures in American modern dance. As a female dancer, choreographer, company founder, she paved the way for all of us in the field today. Rebelling against the light and ethereal aesthetic of ballet, she created a dance technique rooted in earthen movements, expressing the often-darker side of humanity. When I attended Juilliard in the late-1980s, I studied “Graham technique” with principal dancers from her company. Coming from a more classical background, I had never taken this type of modern dance before. I didn’t know modern dance could be this physically demanding and this emotionally intense. I loved it.”
—Michele de la Reza, managing artistic director, Attack Theatre

George Benson

Jazz Musician and Composer (born 1943)

“The first time I heard of George Benson, I went to Stockholm to make a recording with Swedish radio. Bosse Broberg was a really great trumpet player and also a producer. He called me into his office and said, ‘I want you to hear something.’ He played this tape. ‘Have you heard of him? His name is George Benson. I think he’s going to be the big new sensation on the guitar.’ This was 1963 or ’65. That shows you the impact—this was way over in Stockholm. They were floored by him. I didn’t meet him until 1969. We did a production at Soldiers & Sailors [Memorial Hall].”
—Dr. Nathan Davis, director of the jazz-studies department at the University of Pittsburgh

Andy Warhol

Artist, Filmmaker, Publisher, 1928-1987

“Andy Warhol stands as one of the most prolific and pioneering artists of the 20th century. For Warhol, born and raised in Pittsburgh, the ideas of industry and innovation were always central to his thinking about art, its creation and its dissemination. One of the first artists to spearhead the Pop Art movement—a genre that would forever change the realm of art, placing mundane imagery from daily life into the canon of art history—Warhol revolutionized the way we understand the world around us. Equal parts artist, businessman, magazine publisher, filmmaker and socialite, Andy Warhol left behind a far-reaching legacy that continues to be relevant today.”
—Eric C. Shiner, Milton Fine Curator of Art, The Andy Warhol Museum

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