Inner Child: Terry Baker Mulligan
on Romare Bearden’s “The Piano Lesson”
as told to Souleo

The Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art & Storytelling is proud to debut its blog during Black History Month. In partnership with Souleo Enterprises, every month we will share exclusive content on all things museum related. “Up On Sugar Hill” is our monthly round-up of select highlights from the museum’s exhibitions and public programs. “Imagine That!” explores topics that baffle the mind and stretch our imagination. “Inner Child” features noteworthy individuals discussing an artwork on view or featured story at the museum related to their childhood. We invite you to check out our inaugural post below. 

Inner Child: Terry Baker Mulligan on
Romare Bearden’s “The Piano Lesson”
As told to Souleo

When I look at Romare Bearden’s “The Piano Lesson,” I am reminded of the music I grew up around. In 1944, I was born on the second floor of 369 Edgecombe Avenue. Jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins lived about two or three houses away, and rock and roll singer Frankie Lymon lived a few blocks from us too. Frankie was our idol. I used to see Sonny all the time. We knew he was a really good musician because you could always hear him playing. 

From the age of five to nine my stepfather would take me to the Apollo Theater on Thursdays. There wasn’t children’s music then except “Ring Around the Rosie.” We didn’t have Beyoncé or Justin Bieber. You listened to the same thing as your parents. So when my stepfather took me to the Apollo I saw big bands and the piano was the central focus.

Terry Baker Mulligan and her brother Houston in front of their Sugar Hill home.  Photo courtesy of Terry Baker Mulligan.

Terry Baker Mulligan and her brother Houston in front of their Sugar Hill home.  Photo courtesy of Terry Baker Mulligan.

The piano was a wonderful thing. Since most people couldn’t afford it the piano was much more respected than it is now. When you found somebody who had a piano your eyes would light up. To take piano lessons was an honor. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to take any lessons. Back then the kids had bongos or drumsticks and would play music on the benches. Those were the instruments most of them could afford.

This painting brings me back to the old days when music was a huge part of my life.

 

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Terry Baker Mulligan is the award-winning author of “Sugar Hill: Where The Sun Rose Over Harlem.” She currently resides in St. Louis, Missouri.