WOMEN OF WESTINGHOUSE
Esther Bush is no ordinary woman. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, she would become one of the most respected individuals in Pittsburgh and beyond.
The Bush family moved to Pittsburgh in the early 1950s from Alabama as her father searched for better work opportunities. Being one of six children, Esther was driven by competitiveness and community. She recalled the dedication to education that was instilled in her at a young age by her parents.
Esther excelled in school and in extracurricular activities. As a member of the cheerleading squad, she was often found at community and school events. Because of the remarkably successful Westinghouse football team, the cheerleading squad made it a point to be the best of the best.
Ms. Bush is a natural born leader. Her time at Westinghouse was memorable and full of pride. After graduation, she earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Morgan State University and master’s degree in guidance and counseling from the Johns Hopkins University. In her career, she has worked for the Urban League for many years and became president of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh.
Style Icon Naomi Sims took the world by storm during the “Black is Beautiful” movement of the 1960s. She was the first female African American to appear on the cover of TIME Magazine and quickly became a recognizable face in the fashion industry and beyond.
Sims came a long way from in Oxford, Mississippi, where she was born in 1948. She was the youngest of three daughters, whom her mother raised by herself. Naomi attended Westinghouse High School for three years before graduating a year early. Although she excelled academically, her classmates tormented her because of her height—she was 5’10 at the age of the thirteen—her long limbs, and her quirky style.
She persevered through taunting that could have destroyed her confidence and earned a scholarship through the Negro Education Emergency Drive (NEED). She attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. Her classes ranged from fashion design to psychology. Soon after making the transition to the Big Apple, she was discovered and signed a contract with the Wilhelmina Modeling Agency.
Sims was also a skilled writer as well as businesswoman. She wrote books that included All About Health and Beauty for the Black Woman, How to Be a Top Model, and All About Success for the Black Woman.
MARY LOU WILLIAMS
The “Little Piano Girl from East Liberty”, to most people in Pittsburgh during the 1920’s that could only refer to one little girl: Mary Lou Williams. Williams is noted for being a true musical genius and the most influential female jazz pianist, compose, arranger and teacher of the twentieth century. Her career in jazz started as a four-year-old girl playing the pump organ in her Pittsburgh home. Her passion for music continued to grow throughout her life. She was born in 1910 and moved from Atlanta, Georgia alongside her family as a young child. She was a self-taught pianist who entertained faculty of the University of Pittsburgh and even the Mellon family. She attended Westinghouse high school were she studied and pursued her love of jazz. She was known to jam throughout clubs in East Liberty as a teen. Later, her talents took her to Kansas City where she played piano and wrote music for Andy Kirk’s “Twelve Clouds of Joy”. She also wrote music for famous artists including Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, and Dizzy Gillespie. Her blend of jazz and gospel was played from St. Patrick’s Cathedral to the Vatican in Rome. Her most renowned piece, “Mary Lou’s Mass”, was commissioned by the Vatican and was the first jazz piece to be played there. Her notable work led her to become a phenomenal teacher of jazz, history, and writing. She also was a known conductor of the Jazz Orchestra at Duke University throughout 1977. Jazz remained a part of her life until her death in 1981. Her legacy continues today with the Mary Lou Williams Foundation which helps young children and adults learn about jazz.