Mission Statement: National Opera House will restore and maintain the site of the National Negro Opera Company in order to teach culture through arts and music to the youth of the community.


Historical Restoration and Preservation

This organization plans to restore a building that was once a pillar in Homewood and Pittsburgh, known as the National Negro Opera House. In addition to the historic structure claiming importance as being the home of the first African-American opera company in America, it was a hotel visited by prominent African-American celebrities. It was also where the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Pirates hung their uniforms when they were off the field. The house is located in the heart of Homewood and is over one hundred years old. It was organized in 1941 by Mary Caldwell Dawson, who rehearsed on the third floor.

In order to prevent the extermination of the National Negro Opera House and to preserve its historical significance, Ms. Miriam White and Ms. Jonnet Solomon purchased the building in 2000. The National Opera House is in significant disrepair and has faced the possibility of being condemned and destroyed. Ms. White and Ms. Solomon have pursued its preservation for two important reasons. First, the structure maintains a part of history that should be remembered and preserved. Secondly, once the home is restructured, it can again be utilized to give back to the community while serving and supporting their youth. As one of the initial steps in the process of preserving and restoring the historic structure, the National Opera House acquired its 501(c)(3) non-profit organization status in 2003.

The current owners believe that the preservation of history strongly promotes a more solid community. They feel that all people, young and old, need to experience the energy of a historic building, while understanding the legacy their forefathers have created and left for them. They have observed the destruction of numerous historically rich structures in the Pittsburgh area and are earnestly working towards preserving this one.

Interest Survey and Analysis

The Opera House board members have spoken to various youth between the age of 8-18 throughout the Pittsburgh communities. Their findings have shown that a large percentage of these youth have an interest in music and entrepreneurship. Whether it be singing, rapping, producing, writing or engineering, most have an interest in some aspect of the music industry and of owning something of their own.

Field study has proven that 71% of young males and 64% of young females in Homewood are very interested in the areas of music, music production and/or entrepreneurship. If this study is expanded into the entire Pittsburgh region this percentage would increase.

The National Opera House selected each of its programs based on interests shown by youth and for each program's uniqueness, cultural significance, and the character traits it will assist in building in participating youth.


The National Opera House will be utilized as a School for Steelpan Performance. As such, it will hold a unique position of importance in the history of modern music. It will be the first school of its kind in the Pittsburgh. The major focus of the school will be to educate youth in steelpan performance while creating a performance orchestra. To achieve this focus, four services will be integrated in the form of the Pittsburgh Steel Orchestra, a Music Studio, Tea Room and Rental Space.

The Rhyme and Release program is another extremely significant opportunity for participants that will be offered in conjunction with the Music Studio. The goal of Rhyme and Release is to enable students to express and manage their emotions.

Each of these services will be offered to young community members based upon a set tuition cost. Participating youth that qualify, will receive financial assistance through means of a scholarship program. Funds for scholarships will be generated through concerts, tours, and corporate partnerships. These scholarships will add an incentive for participants to stay in school and increase their educational efforts.

Each of the services is discussed below. Some of them will also be made available to the community for reasonable fees which will be used to assist in the continuation of the Opera House.

Pittsburgh Steel Orchestra

The School for Steelpan Performance will be the focal point of the National Opera House and will create a new sound of steel for the Pittsburgh region. Participants will learn to play the steelpan and gain an understanding of music, rhythm and culture.

This group of performers will collectively be called the Pittsburgh Steel Orchestra. The orchestra will create, perform and record musical compositions using steelpan instruments as an ongoing part of the program. Focus will be placed not only on the students performing as a group, but also as individual professional steelpan performers.

The steelpan, or pan, is a pitched musical instrument made from 55-gallon steel drums that are pounded, reshaped and finely tuned into sophisticated acoustic instruments. Using a combination of pitched steelpan instruments, entire musical compositions are performed without the addition of other musical instruments. The steelpan holds a significant place in history as being the only new acoustic musical instrument invented and accepted worldwide in the twentieth century. This fact presents an additional historic influence for the students, as they personally become a part of that history as it forms. The versatility and unique features of the steelpan have been shown to appeal to young musicians worldwide.

Children in the British Caribbean island nation of Trinidad and Tobago invented the first steelpans in the 1930's. They had a desire to play the classical music that they heard but were too poor to afford the instruments. Their determination led them to improvise by using pots, pans, biscuit tins and paint cans to beat on to play a rhythm. Over time, their non-pitched instruments evolved into ones with just a few notes, and eventually to the reconstructed 55-gallon oil barrels with the entire chromatic scale. This allowed the players to create music in any key with all the notes. The National Opera House recognizes the very appropriate correlation between this instrument that was created by talented and inventive children with very limited resources and the fact that it will be used to encourage and educate today's children who also live their lives with numerous limitations. Because the children of Trinidad and Tobago used what little they had to achieve amazing goals, a new venture in musical history was born. The Opera House is inspired by this and works towards seeing the children of Homewood, Lincoln, Lemington, Larimer, and East Liberty achieve results that are just as outstanding.

The Steel Orchestra will start with ten steelpans and grow to approximately thirty instruments over a period of three years. The orchestra will be comprised of approximately forty community youth members. The school will teach its students self-discipline and how to work with others through the creation and recording of steelpan music and through the art of performing.

The Pittsburgh Steel Orchestra will establish a concert series that will begin in Pittsburgh and gradually continue around the United States. Possibilities also exist to eventually perform internationally. Touring will give members the opportunity to travel and learn about their country, and even the entire world, through first hand experience. Students will provide educational and benefit concerts and produce professional recordings in the Music Studio of the Opera House.

Music Studio

Research has proven the importance of the music industry to young people. An understanding of the inner workings of a music studio is a necessary component of this industry. In order to meet this need, the Opera House will provide its own Music Studio. They will teach the technical skills of how a music studio works music production from start to finish and an understanding of the elements of a successful studio. There will be no additional cost for participating in the studio program for those who qualify for scholarships. To sustain itself, the studio will be available for rent at an affordable cost to musicians who desire to produce professional recordings.

Rhyme and Release is a unique program that will be used to incorporate the Music Studio into the Steel Orchestra School. Rhyme and Release is designed to help youth release the negative emotions in their lives through creative writings that are put to music as songs or poetry. Students who participate will be provided with a safe venue to express their inner feeling without fear of rejection or retaliation. Rather than internalizing their problems and eventually taking them out on other people, these kids will gain confidence in themselves and their abilities, as they learn to accept and love who they are. Rhyme and Release has already proven itself, as it has achieved successful results at other locations. Within this program, students will use the Studio to record their personal creative works. Being able to take this with them when they complete the program provides crucial reinforcement of the values and principles they have learned and experienced.

Tea Room

The Tea Room will represent the endurance of historical reasoning. The original Opera House had a Tea Room that served as a social gathering place to build relationships and share ideas after a hard day of training and practice. The modern day Opera House chooses to carry on that tried and true tradition to support that same camaraderie among its students.

This important room will once again continue its valued tradition while the Tea Room is used as a performance venue and rehearsal space for the modern day programs of the Opera House. During the original reign of the National Negro Opera House, patrons would come to the Tea Room to enjoy a cup of tea while they watched vignettes of the operas that were being learned at that time. The Steel Orchestra will utilize this same practice of conducting a dress rehearsal before small audiences in order to build performance skills and in preparation for the larger live concert performances.

The Tea Room will also be a location for social gatherings. It will be opened to the public daily while serving unique foods and beverages. The room will generate revenue by renting its space for tea parties, art events, small intimate weddings and other art or social events. Art works will be displayed in the gallery and will be available for sale to help promote the talents of the artists and to help raise funds for the Opera House.

This will be a fully functional business managed by community youth who will learn all aspects of running a business. Students who go through this program will learn entrepreneurial skills intended to transcend into their future careers. The Opera House will partner with youth training programs and youth entrepreneurial programs that train young people in the areas of business management, while instilling an enterprising spirit.

Rental Space

Within the Opera House, specific areas will be allocated for multi-purpose Rental Space. These areas will be used as a gathering location for various programs and community functions. They will also be available for rent by musicians and arts organizations for rehearsals, meeting space, and special events. This space will be available at a reasonable fee every day of the week and will be open into the evening hours to increase its usage. Renting the space available at the House is intended to serve as a significant revenue stream..

The National Opera House will partner with the various groups and individuals that utilize its facilities to provide a unique space to hold their events. They will also help these community members promote their mission, fundraisers and programs by publicizing them on their website and by including these events in other promotional venues used by the Opera House. Rather than simply offering the community convenient and affordable space to rent, they wish to support the growth and success of their organizations, businesses and individuals.

The spacious outdoor area of the property will be used for performances by the Steel Orchestra. It will also be available for rent by the community for various outdoor events and weddings.


Restoration of the National Opera House will be conducted in three phases as follows :

Phase One Phase Two Phase Three
Roof (Shingles)
Porch (Wood)
Windows (Divided Light)
Heating (forced Air)
PYSO (Program)
Exterior Painting
Interior Painting

Tea Room


The time line for the start and completion of each of these phases is still in progress.