Black Musicians Unite

Philadelphia’s Black Musicians’ Union, Local 274 PART IV/IV

Philly Jazz: An Overview to the Founding of Musicians’ Protective Union Local 274: A four part series 

Musicians’ Protective Union Local 274, American Federation of Musicians was chartered on January 2, 1935 by Black musicians. Local 274 was one of more than fifty Black musicians’ unions established in the American Federation of Musicians. The first Black musicians’ union Local 208 was established in Chicago in 1902. In Philadelphia, Frank Thurman “Frankie” Fairfax, orchestra leader, composer and trumpeter, became a key figure in the movement to organize a musicians’ union. Local 274. The union, composed predominantly of professional jazz musicians, was established by organized musical groups. Doc Hyder had a fourteen-piece big band. Some of the other bands and orchestras included Harry Marsh’s Orchestra, Frank T. Fairfax’s Orchestra, Morris Mosley and His Six Happy Crooners, Harry Monroe and the Duskey Aces, Charlie Gaines Orchestra, and Raymond Smith’s Orchestra. Other band and orchestra leaders were Jimmie Gorham, Jimmy Shorter and Gertie Monk Taylor. 

The first elected officers of Union Local 274 were: George W. Hyder, President; Harry Monroe, Vice President; Frank T. Fairfax, Secretary; Harold Allen, Assistant Secretary; Wesley Fitzgerald, Treasurer; and Damon Fisher, Sergeant-at-Arms. On Monday, May 27, 1935, the union had its First Annual Musicians’ Ball and Reception, which was held at the O.V. Catto Elks Home, 16th and Fitzwater Streets. The affair was advertised as a “real battle of music” featuring twenty-five union bands. The bands included Doc Hyder, Frankie Fairfax, and Smiling Billie Stewart. They had two floors for dancing from 9 PM until. The admission was forty cents.  Eventually, the local would accumulate enough funds to rent an office. The emergence of Local 274 is a testimony to the consciousness and collective behavior of African American musicians, who were predominantly jazz musicians. They broke racial barriers, admitted all musicians regardless of gender, color or religion and emphasized excellence, collectivity and pride in African American culture while promoting Black musical form.

Dr. Diane D. Turner is Curator of the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries. Dr. Turner holds three Temple University degrees.  Her areas of specialization and research include African American Labor, Cultural and Social History, Philadelphia Jazz History, Independent Black Filmmakers, Oral History and Public History.  Her dissertation is entitled Organizing and Improvising: A History of Philadelphia’s Black Musicians’ Protective Union Local 274, American Federation of Musician.  She has taught African-American history at the university level including Brown University, Northeastern University, Rowan University, University of South Florida (Tampa, FL) and other institutions.  She has authored My Name is Oney Judge (2010), Feeding the Soul: Black Music, Black Thought (2011) and Our Grand Pop is a Montford Point Marine (2018), co-authored with her father, Corporal Thomas S. Turner Sr.  Her writings appear in anthologies and scholarly journals.  She serves as a consultant on a number of advisory boards and committees such as Bethel Burial Ground Historic Site Memorial Committee, Third World Press Foundation, Scribe Video’s Precious Places and others.  She is president of the Montford Point Marines Association, Philadelphia Chapter #1 Auxiliary.  Her current book projects document Philadelphia jazz history.

Go back to Part IPart II  or Part III 

This is part four of a four part series.

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