No Place Like Home

Multiple celebrities grew up in Pittsburgh and still call the city home.

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photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Actor and comedian Billy Gardell has been a Pittsburgh Steeler fan his entire life.

Anthony Durzo, Staff Writer

Our hometown is our safe spot, a place we know like the back of our hands. Like any ordinary person, celebrities feel the same way when they think of the city of Pittsburgh. Here are just a few well-known folks who have stories that begin in our very own Steel City. 

Although Christina Aguilera was born in Staten Island, New York, her singing career began in Wexford, PA. When she wasn’t attending classes at Marshall Elementary School and North Allegheny Intermediate and Senior High Schools, Aguilera performed at multiple local events including major sporting events where she sang the national anthem.

Her dazzling performances in Pittsburgh are what ultimately led to her successful role on the Disney Channel’s TV show The New Mickey Mouse Club. After Disney called it quits on the 90’s program, Aguilera continued to wow the crowd with her voice. In 1999, she released her first album, which was self-entitled “Christina Aguilera.” To this day, the little girl from North Allegheny, now a middle-aged mother, continues to sing her heart out on stages across the world. 

Just a short trip down the turnpike from the North Hills lies Swissvale, PA, where actor and comedian Billy Gardell spent the majority of his childhood. After his parents divorce, he was moved to Orlando, Florida, where he began his career as a comedian, but frequently traveled back to his hometown to visit his father. 

Gardell has mentioned on several occasions that no matter where his entertainment career takes him, Pittsburgh will always be special to him. ”

Years later, Gardell began acting in Los Angeles with short roles in famous sitcoms such as The King of Queens and Yes, Dear. He is most known for his hilarious role on the hit CBS sitcom Mike and Molly, where he portrayed the role of Chicago Police Officer Mike Biggs. After CBS pulled the plug on the sitcom in 2016, he picked up another role on a CBS sitcom, Bob Hearts Abishola, in 2019.  

Gardell has mentioned on several occasions that no matter where his entertainment career takes him, Pittsburgh will always be special to him. 

That sense of Pittsburgh pride is common in the people who were born here. Singer-songwriter Gabby Barrett has even incorporated aspects of Pittsburgh in one of her songs. 

Barrett has been all over the country music charts in the past year, following the release of her debut album entitled “Goldmine.” She was born in Munhall and attended Serra Catholic High School before transferring to Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School. 

Her singing career began on American Idol, although her audition is story quite different than the average contestant’s tale. Barrett did not plan on auditioning for American Idol– the show asked her to audition. Although she did not win the singing competition, her song, “I Hope,” caught the attention of Warner Music Nashville, leading to the release of the song in 2019.

The song was Barrett’s first number one hit and was featured on her first album. Another song on the album called “The Good Ones” also climbed to number one. In this tune, Barrett mentions the Allegheny River, singing ‘He’s solid and he’s steady like the Allegheny runs.”   

She’s not the only new country singer who calls Pittsburgh home. Dan Smyers sings and writes for the popular country music duo, Dan and Shay. Not only did he grow up in the North Hills area, but he also graduated from North Allegheny in 2006. He attended Carnegie Mellon University, where he earned a degree in finance.

Fast forward ten years later, Smyers is now topping the country music charts with his singing partner, Shay Mooney. Together, they have written and produced popular songs, such as “10,000 hours” and “Speechless,” and the band is loved by many across the nation. 

This next Pittsburgh native was one of the most beloved people on television. Fred Rogers, born in Latrobe, PA, just east of the city, always made sure that all of Pennsylvania could feel the love he had for his neighbors. 

He got his start in the 60’s at WQED-TV, where he debuted his first television series, Mister Rogers’s Neighborhood, which was later picked up by PBS. The show was an educational program for children who could watch and learn life lessons. 

Rogers died in 2003 at the age of 84, but his legacy and message continues to spread thanks to the help of the Fred Rogers Center located in Latrobe. 

As tribute to Rogers’s view on life and warm-hearted personality, Tom Hanks played him in the movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, released in 2019. The majority of the movie was filmed in Pittsburgh at Fred Rogers Studios.  

Any citizen of Pittsburgh, celebrity or not, may leave their hometown for the betterment of their own life, but there is something special about Pittsburgh that even has household names feeling a little homesick for the Steel City. After all, there’s no place like home.