The Piano Lesson
by August Wilson
The Piano Lesson Arts and Culture: Music Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Act.Scene.Line). Every time a character talks counts as one line, even if what they say turns into a long monologue.
Doaker: "Berniece ain't gonna sell that piano." (1.1.100)
Music is an incredibly important theme throughout the play. It seems pretty darn fitting then that a musical instrument is at the center of it all. Not only does the piano touch on every theme in the play, but Berniece and Boy Willie's battle over it is the play's central conflict.
Stage Directions: Boy Willie sits and plays a simple boogie-woogie. (208)
When Boy Willie tries to teach his niece, Maretha, how to play some boogie-woogie, he's in some ways sharing with her their African-American heritage. Boogie-woogie was a popular form of music created by African Americans in the deep South.
Boy Willie: (Sings) "O Lord Berta Berta O Lord gal oh-ah/O Lord Berta Berta O Lord gal well" (1.2.95)
Boy Willie starts off this song that the inmates sing on Parchman Farm, the infamous prison farm. Lymon, Wining Boy, and Doaker all join in and sing along. They all ended up on Parchman Farm at one point so they know the song well. By including this song in the play, Wilson documents an important form of African-American music, the work song. This kind of song developed from the African tradition of call and response, in which one person sang a line and a chorus of others answered back. African-American slaves sang these songs to help endure the drudgery of slavery. The mostly black prisoners of Parchman Farm sang these types of songs for pretty much the same reason. These prison songs are often thought of as a particular type of work song.