Lawrence Music marks 60th anniversary

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About a year before Brad Johnson bought Lawrence Music in Castle Shannon, he told then-owner Russ Lawrence that he was quitting his job as the store’‍s manager. 

In a decision that altered the next 25 years of his life, Mr. Johnson changed his mind. He has owned the guitar shop since 1989 and celebrated the store’‍s 60th anniversary Saturday.

“[The store is] like a ship that’‍s on the water, and we’‍re all just passengers on this ship,” said Mr. Johnson, 51. “People jump off into the musical tide from time to time, and more people climb aboard, but everybody leaves their impact. 

Joe Negri celebrates Lawrence Guitar's 60th

Joe Negri celebrates Lawrence Guitar's 60th (Video by Pam Panchak; 7/17/2014

“Lawrence Music is going to be here long after I’‍m gone.”

Renowned Pittsburgh guitarist Joe Negri performed Saturday at the store to mark its six-decade anniversary.

“Pittsburghers don’‍t appreciate Joe like he should be,” Mr. Johnson said. “He’‍s known throughout the world as one of the best jazz guitarists that there is. To have him have this connection with us is just a wonderful thing.” 

Mr. Negri, 88, is known for his more than 30-year role as Handyman Negri on the PBS show “Mister Rogers’‍ Neighborhood.” During his performance to a crowd of about 30 people, he talked about learning to play the guitar as a child and young adult. 

He was once a student of Vic Lawrence, the store’‍s founder, who has no relation to Russ Lawrence. Mr. Negri has since given lessons of his own, including to Upper St. Clair native Anthony Ambroso, 23, who played with Mr. Negri at Saturday’‍s event. 

Tracy Born of Brookline brought her 8-year-old daughter to watch Mr. Negri’‍s 45-minute performance.

“I’‍ve loved Joe since I was a kid and he was on ‘‍Mister Rogers’‍ Neighborhood,’‍” said Ms. Born, 47. “He’‍s a treasure of Pittsburgh.” 

To the more than 8,000 students who have taken guitar lessons at Lawrence Music since 1989, the store itself is also a treasure of the city. Mr. Johnson of Peters said owning the shop has been “different in every way” from his expectations. 

“What you can think is going to happen to you is seldom what really does,” he said. “One of the coolest things about my job is that it’‍s never the same. And it might be a problem, but at least it’‍s a different problem.” 

Since its opening in 1954, the shop has undergone several expansions. Mr. Johnson is currently remodeling the building’‍s second floor, which used to be an apartment, by installing a new recital room and individual music studios. He said he’‍s unsure when the project will be completed because progress is being made “as money allows.” 

Staying in business is difficult, Mr. Johnson said, but seeing the store’‍s students benefit mentally and emotionally from their lessons is worth the challenge. 

“Guitar is therapy to a lot of people. It’‍s a way of getting away without going anywhere,” he said. “When you’‍re playing, you’‍re not thinking about anything else.” 

More information is available at

Marisa Iati;, 412-263-1891 or on Twitter @marisa_iati.

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