Bellhop notes William Penn's history and grandeur


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The chandeliers in the Omni William Penn hotel lobby glittered as bellman Darryl Cann pointed at the multimillion dollar ceiling. “Isn‘‍t it beautiful?” he beamed. Without missing a beat, he stepped forward and proceeded to the elevator. 

East Liberty resident Darryl Cann, 54, isn’‍t a tour guide, although he often acts like one -- as well as a waiter and a music historian. 

While rattling off the names of jazz greats who have passed through the hotel‘‍s revolving doors, Mr. Cann paused. “Can I get you anything?” he asked. “Would you like a glass of water?”

Bellman adds clarinet to tools of the trade

Darryl Cann, the clarinet-playing bell man at Omni William Penn Hotel, has made a name for himself by way of news accounts and even a Tokyo radio program. (Video by Ye Zhu; 7/1/2014)

Mr. Cann has perfected this pitch over his 10 years at the Downtown hotel. In one breath, he can recite a brief history of both the hotel and the city. His service has been recognized with three Omni Service Champion awards, a letter from former Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and more than 150 guest recommendations in the past year alone. 

Among those accolades are a few with star-studded signatures. When President Barack Obama stayed in the hotel for the G20 summit in 2009, Mr. Cann met him in the lobby and shook his hand. A Secret Service agent presented him with a pair of presidential cuff links. Another time, he encountered Lady Gaga wearing “normal clothes.”

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Leading a group through the building’‍s ornate halls, Mr. Cann sighed contentedly, “This whole hotel is my home. The lobby is my living room.”

Before he donned his Omni uniform, Mr. Cann‘‍s home was a mobile one. For four years he worked as a cab driver-turned-entertainer, serenading his passengers with his clarinet during traffic jams and long red lights. The music brightened the busy roads, and not a single customer complained of the danger. 

He used to play his clarinet in the hotel lobby, too, but that tradition retired with the old management. Now he finds empty ballrooms for fulfilling special performance requests. 

Inside the Bob and Dolores Hope room -- named after the prolific performing pair -- Mr. Cann ran one hand across the top of his clarinet case. “I can‘‍t wait to play for you!” he said with a grin. 

“Music for me is like breathing air,” he explained. “It keeps me grounded.” Mr. Cann can play five instruments, but the clarinet is his favorite because “it’‍s the closest to the human voice.”

Standing beside a podium with the inscription “Omni William Penn,” Mr. Cann performed a diverse selection: “Misty” by Erroll Garner, “The Flintstones” theme, the Steelers fight song. 

Almost every week, he also plays on Walnut Street, across from the Apple store in Shadyside, 

For all his attachment to the Omni William Penn, Mr. Cann doesn‘‍t think he’ll be working there forever. When he arrived in Pittsburgh from Philadelphia as a college student in 1977, he set out to explore the city. When the opportunity arises, he’ll be ready for the next job.  

“This is a big world,” Mr. Cann said. “There‘‍s a lot that I could give to and benefit from.” 

The last notes of Ella Fitzgerald’‍s “How High the Moon” lingered in the air as he packed his clarinet away. With a spring in his step, Mr. Cann rode the elevator back down to the lobby. 

Yanan Wang: ywang@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1949 or on Twitter @yananw.


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