The Troy Street Observer

May 8, 1948: AFM Local 535 Burns the Mortgage

On May 8, 1948, it was party time as members of AFM Local 535 burned the paid-off mortgage on their building at 409 Mass Ave.

An earlier post described the situation with the American Federation of Musicians, and how the segregated locals 9 and 535 were merged into Local 9-535 in 1970. Here’s a bit more on the pre-merger locals.

Both locals wandered a bit before settling into their long-term homes. Local 9 was at 295 Huntington Ave near Gainsborough Street before moving to the Musicians Mutual Relief Society building at 52-56 St Botolph Street in 1938. Local 535 moved from a South End music store to offices on Columbus Avenue above Charlie’s Sandwich Shop, then to Worcester Street.

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April 3, 1970: AFM Locals 9 and 535 Merge

On April 3, 1970, the separate Boston locals for black and white musicians in the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) merged to form Local 9-535. Finally.

It’s a story that is a product of its times. For many years in the middle of the last century, most cities, including Boston, had separate AFM locals for blacks and whites. (New York and Detroit were the exceptions.) Boston had its white Local 9 and its black Local 535. “It’s still beyond my limited understanding why Boston, or any other city, for that matter, requires two locals—one for whites, the other for Negroes. Music is supposed to be the most democratic of the arts: what excuse, then, is there for segregation in that realm?” wrote Nat Hentoff in 1947. Nonetheless, two locals remained the status quo.

Generally speaking the black musicians in Local 535 filled the nightclub jobs in the South End and downtown, while the Local 9 musicians worked in the hotels, studio orchestras, and theater pits. Various reasons were invented to explain this work breakdown, a primary one being that the black musicians could improvise, but they couldn’t read well enough to handle studio or theater work. Ridiculous. The truth was more along the lines of job security and controlling the more lucrative jobs.

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