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An American Dream in Pittsburgh
The American Dream is a story familiar to many. It’s often romanticized in stories taking place in big cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. However, this story of the American Dream takes place in Pittsburgh.
After a few weeks of planning, Jonnet and I are able to connect on the phone. Her voice is strong but happy as she recalls her journey to Pittsburgh.
Jonnet Solomon grew up in Georgetown, Guyana, enjoying the warm salty breezes off of the Caribbean, flying kites, and eating fresh mangoes from her family’s mango farm. As she tells me what her childhood along the Caribbean was like, she also lets me know how many different kinds of mangoes there are, making my mouth water as I take notes.
A Father’s Dream
“It was my father’s dream of bringing the steelpan drum to the world,” she explains that brought them to the United States. They first lived in the Bronx, and in 1986 they moved to Pittsburgh, and her father, Phil Solomon, founded Solomon Steelpan Company, and began manufacturing steel drums. Her family started a steelpan band, which she says, “We were like the Partridge Family.” And when she was in high school, a steelpan band was formed in her school. It started with four members and grew to around 30 members.
While she’s talking about the steelpan, I’m reminded of a Sesame Street episode with steelpans. When I tell her, she says, “That’s us! That’s my family. We were also on Nickelodeon, and the most watched episode of Mister Rogers.” The odds are, if you grew up watching Sesame Street and saw any of the classic episodes with the steelpans, you saw the Solomons.
Through the move to the United States, Jonnet says, “It was my dad’s dream. Solomon Steelpan Company was the first steel pan manufacturing company in America…it was something my dad wanted to achieve, and he did. He’s built tens of tens steel bands throughout the country. He was able to achieve his dream.”
While the move to Pittsburgh was her parents’ decision, it’s been her choice to stay in Pittsburgh, “I love America. I think Pittsburgh has been really good to my family. It’s so easy to live here. . . For me it’s been a super easy city to be successful [in] and raise a child.”
Jonnet has been working hard to restore the former headquarters of the National Negro Opera Company in Homewood. She’s an accountant by profession but was touched by the history of the house and has been working to restore the local treasure as a volunteer. Her drive to save this bit of Pittsburgh culture and history is admirable. It’s Pittsburghers like Jonnet who make the city so special. They live here by choice, yet see the importance of the pieces of the city’s history. And some make it their mission to save the hidden or forgotten gems of the city.
We’ll be talking to Jonnet again in the future to discuss more of her work on the National Negro Opera Company.
Find more Pittsburghers by Choice here.