Paying Their Dues: Buffalo's African American Musicians Union, Local 533, A.F.M

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PAYING THEIR DUES: Buffalo's African American Musicians Union, Local 533, A.F.M.

On September 11, 1966, during the regular monthly meeting of Buffalo Local 533 of the American Federation of Musicians, regular business was tabled by the Executive Board in order to discuss plans for an anniversary dinner-dance. This highly significant event would celebrate the 50th anniversary of the institution's charter, and the officers wished to plan a truly festive affair for the occasion. With the dance targeted for spring of the coming year, the Executive Board, consisting of President Perry Gray, Vice President Albert Riding, Secretary-Treasurer Lloyd V. Plummer, and Directors Arthur Anderson, Victor Einach, Edward Inge, Robert Crump, Dorothy Fay, and Cecil Johnson, appointed itself the planning committee, and decided to meet every second week solely to prepare the anniversary fest.(2)

After scrutinizing several possible local restaurants with banqueting facilities, the committee chose the Hearthstone Manor because of its seating capacity of 500. Once the location had been settled, the date had to be fixed, tickets printed, special guests invited and after-dinner speakers solicited. The first date proposed, February 7, had been the most logical choice, since many annual Local 533 dinners and social get-togethers were scheduled during that month, but more significantly, it was especially appropriate for the 50th anniversary, as the first official board meeting of the newly-chartered local occurred on February 10, 1917. However, in spite of this, the committee on October 9, 1966 decided to hold the affair on April 15 of the following year, "to avoid bad weather and the Lenten season."

After 500 tickets had been printed by Artcraft Burrow Printers and priced at six dollars each for members and guests, the committee decided to send invitations to AFM President Herbert D. Kenin, to N.Y. State Conference of Musicians President Joseph Devit and Secretary William Coleman, and also to representatives of seventeen locals from the Western New York and Ontario regions to as far away as Boston and Providence,(3) as well as Buffalo's other Musicians Union, Local 43. A suggestion of President Emeritus and charter member Raymond E. Jackson was adopted to extend invitations to older and former members of the local who had retired or moved away from the area. To publicize the event, the local also notified the Buffalo weekly Challenger, the daily Courier Express, and the official organ of the American Federation of Musicians, International Musician.

On the Sunday afternoon of the event, guests gathered for cocktails and informal conversation, with background music provided by the George Holt Trio. At the head table, during the meal, sat the Local 533 officers and their wives, AFM President and Mrs. Kenin, N.Y. officers Devit and Coleman, Raymond Jackson and his wife, and Father Donahue of Sacred Heart Parish. Local 533 President Perry Gray introduced President Kenin, whose remarks focused on current issues of the Federation, and then gave the floor to Dr. Jackson. Raymond Jackson, who Albert Riding has described as "a wonderful speaker, with a big heavy voice...a great elecutionist"(4) presented a history of the local, which was quoted almost verbatim by the Challenger. It serves as an appropriate introduction to this paper.

The first officers of the Local were Silas Laws, Charles Swayne, Mont[e] Tate, John Neal, Julius Franklin, Henry Wheeler, Clara Oliver and Charles Wright, and these names appear on the Charter. Mention was made that in the year 1916 overtures were made to Musicians Local 43 of Buffalo, New York to take in the Negro musicians, but they refused. An appeal was then made to the International Union and the then President Joseph N. Weber ordered Major John Powell to represent the Federation and to organize the Negro musicians. This was accomplished on February 3, 1917, and since that time Local 533 has been an ongoing concern. …