African American Jazz Preservation Society of Pittsburgh Oral History Project Records and Recordings

What's online?

There are 63 interviews of 54 individuals conducted between 1995 and 1999 during the African American Jazz Preservation Society of Pittsburgh (AAJPSP) Oral History Project.

What's in the entire collection?

This oral history collection consists of transcripts, cassette tapes, project working files and background organizational records of the interviews conducted during the African American Jazz Preservation Society of Pittsburgh (AAJPSP) Oral History Project (1995-1999). The project documents individual African American Jazz Musicians in Pittsburgh as well as their efforts to organize. The content of the interviews span from 1904 to 1999.

About the African American Jazz Preservation Society of Pittsburgh (AAJPSP) Oral History Project

The African American Jazz Preservation Society of Pittsburgh was incorporated in 1996 after a group of Pittsburgh's senior African American Jazz, Blues and Gospel musicians formed a committee to look into the recovery of the lost history of Local 471. Under the leadership of Charles E. Austin the society's main direction has been towards the oral history project and in filing a discrimination civil action suit. The society publishes Jazz Notes, which has been a forum for education, opportunity and rediscovery of the former union's history.

The project conducted by volunteers was an effort to document and preserve the cultural, economic, social and educational contributions of the union, from the perspectives of the African American Jazz, Blues, and Gospel artists who organized, operated and benefited from its programs and activities. Volunteer musicians interviewed 57 former members of the union throughout the Pittsburgh region.

About the Pittsburgh African American Musicians' Association

The Pittsburgh African American Musicians' Association was incorporated as a non-profit organization in Allegheny County, Court of Common Pleas 1906. In 1908, the American Federation of Labor granted Black musicians in Pittsburgh a charter to form Local 471 of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), also known as the Musicians Protective Union. In 1965, as a result of the new ALF-CIO desegregation policy, Local 471 was merged with AFM Local 60 to form AFM Local 60-471, also known as the Pittsburgh Musical Society and then later as the Pittsburgh Musicians Union.

Local 471 was located in a club on Wylie Avenue in the Hill District of Pittsburgh. The club had offices on the first floor, with a piano bar and rehearsal space on the second floor. The club was a popular gathering place for musicians, both local and national, offering a congenial atmosphere for rehearsing and jamming. The organization was a powerful force in the development of community in the city's African American neighborhoods and the securing of economic and educational opportunities for local musicians and bands. Union members played in theaters, clubs, restaurants, ice follies, vaudeville acts, touring companies, churches and concert halls throughout Pittsburgh, the continental U.S., Western Europe, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

When the Civic Arena was built in the mid-1950s, much of the lower Hill District of Pittsburgh was torn down, including the musicians' club, forcing the union to move temporarily to a storefront on Centre Avenue in East Liberty. More permanently the union found space in a former bar on the corner of Enterprise and Frankstown Avenues, also in East Liberty. Due to financial difficulties in the late fifties, the local moved yet again, this time to a bar owned by Joe Westray, then president of the local. They remained at this location until 1965.

The presidents of Local 471 were elected by the members for a two year term, with no limit to the number of terms a president could serve. Records of the names of earlier presidents have been lost. The earliest known president was Hence "Prez" Jackson from the early thirties to the mid-forties at which point Stoney Gloster served until 1954. In 1954 Carl Arter served until 1958 when Joe Westray became president and filled that office until the merge deposed him in 1965. He became one of the three representatives from 471 to serve on the board of the merged local, along with Carl Arter and Rubye Younge Hardy.

The merge was prompted by the American Federation of Musicians integration policy of that time. Pittsburgh could no longer operate two locals, separated on the basis of race. The merger appears to have cost the African American union members much of their autonomy. Leadership positions remained for the most part in the hands of the white musicians. Many of 471's membership cards and records were also lost with the merger costing a great number of the members' benefits from their seniority in the union. It was at this point many African American musicians cancelled their membership in the union, which meant that they could no longer play music professionally in Pittsburgh.

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