‘Buzzy’ Robinson and the Crawford Grill—Inseparable
by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer
Everybody who was anybody frequented the famed Crawford Grill.
Any and everybody knew William “Buzzy” Robinson.
Just like Macaroni and Cheese, Salt and Pepper, and Peanut Butter and Jelly, “Buzzy” and the Crawford Grill are inseparable.
The son of Lydda and Joe Robinson, the latter being the superlative businessman who partnered with William “Gus” Greenlee to open Crawford Grill No. 2 in 1943, Buzz passed away on the afternoon of Feb. 1, in the Hill District. He was 89.
When Greenlee, famed owner of the Pittsburgh Crawfords, died in 1952, Joe Robinson assumed sole ownership of the Crawford Grill No. 2, with his son, Buzz, managing the club and taking it to new heights.
“Buzz built upon ‘The Grill’s’ tradition of drawing socially and racially diverse audiences from across the country,” read part of his official obituary.
This article could span thousands upon thousands of words if it noted each person who ever entered the Crawford Grill. But it’s the names most people would recognize that show just how illustrious and legendary Buzz’s jazz club truly was.
Let’s just start with Pittsburgh. Roberto Clemente. Willie Stargell. The Rooneys. The Kaufmanns. August Wilson. George Benson. Stanley Turrentine. Walt Harper. Lena Horne. Billy Strayhorn. Art Blakey. Mary Lou Williams. Billy Eckstine.
And of course, the national acts made their way to the Crawford Grill. Nat King Cole, Charles Mingus. Clifford Brown. Maynard Ferguson. Thelonious Monk. Max Roach. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Ethel Kennedy. Dizzy Gillespie.
“Buzz Robinson will be remembered as a strong advocate for his community, Pittsburgh’s Hill District,” his obituary read, obtained by the New Pittsburgh Courier. “He was known for pushing social boundaries and being very vocal in his support of civil rights. Buzz was a great enthusiast of music, art, food and life experiences. He was a magnet for neighborhood children who referred to him as ‘Uncle Buzzy,’ and he was known for passing out candy and dollar bills to any child brave enough to approach him.”
“The Crawford Grill is where I got to meet and know THE Mal Goode, Mr. William ‘Bill’ Nunn Sr., editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, Mr. William Young, first Black to be appointed to the Governor of Pennsylvania’s cabinet as Secretary of Labor, all of the Black judges, all BLACK CANDIDATES,” penned longtime Courier columnist and civil rights advocate Louis “Hop” Kendrick in a 2018 column that appeared in the Courier.
CRAWFORD GRILL NO. 2, in 1975, from the McBride Sign Company Photographs, Detre Library & Archives, Heinz History Center.
“Everybody who believed he was somebody frequented the Crawford Grill. There were those persons I met, respected, learned from, listened to, and paid attention to. There were those persons who had traveled the entire country, been to the great 500 automobile race, 25 consecutive Kentucky Derbys, world championship fights, Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Jack Johnson, etc. There were those who had met and known Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, and they would tell how they would use their personal funds to finance Black organizations and candidates (something we don’t do today).”
“Hop” Kendrick wouldn’t be able to count how many times he was in the Crawford Grill. It was the place to be.
“There were a number of us who qualified to be regulars in the corner of the Crawford Grill,” “Hop” wrote in 2018, “but the Angel of Death has called all of them home, but myself and the son of the owner of the Crawford Grill, William ‘Buzzy’ Robinson. Buzzy is an example of what we were exposed to in the Crawford Grill, because he is a world traveler—he was able to describe to us and particularly to those who had only read and saw foreign countries in movies about some of the places and things he was able to see and participate in, and he lived for years in ‘The Big Apple.’ The town, so nice, they named it twice—New York, New York.”
Nelson E. Harrison, Ph.D., is many things—a clinical psychologist, educator, author—but his true passion is music. Dr. Harrison is a veteran of the Count Basie Orchestra (trombonist), a world-class musician who will never forget his early days playing at Buzzy’s club, the Crawford Grill No. 2, in 1956 and beyond.
Dr. Harrison has traveled the world, playing in hundreds of venues, but he told the Courier in an exclusive interview, March 9, that “the Crawford Grill was my favorite stage to play on in my entire lifetime, largely due to Buzzy and the way he maintained the place. He kept the standards high and it was always a joy to be around him and to work for and with him.”
Dr. Harrison, who is currently an Adjunct Professor of Psychology & Ethnic Studies at Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC), called Buzzy Robinson “a great personality in the community, who maintained and hosted the music community, including the fans and the musicians, in a way that prepared us for the highest standard across the world.”
Born Sept. 8, 1931, in Pittsburgh, William P. “Buzzy” Robinson later attended West Virginia State College (now West Virginia State University). He had a great love for his family and friends, his obituary said. The obituary recalled one of the well-known “Buzzy Stories” when Buzzy chased a “hungry grizzly bear” from his cabin while he was visiting his friend, Jim Friedman, in Alaska.
“This account was later verified by people living in the remote fishing village where it happened, and he remains local legend there to this day,” Buzzy’s obituary stated.
Buzzy Robinson is survived by his children; Joseph, Price and Courtney, and their families, including Buzzy’s grandchildren, Ava, Jovonne and Jesse.
“He had a unique relationship with all his family and will be remembered for the best of his qualities by each of them,” Buzzy’s obituary read. “Before his death, he wanted to leave a personal message for his grandson, Jesse, with whom he had a very special bond: ‘Be your own man, Jesse. You are an exceptional and rare individual. The world is waiting for you—do great things! I will be watching you.’”