Mutual Musicians Foundation
- Existence: 1917
Established in 1917, Local 627, then known as the ""Colored Musicians Union,"" initially included 25 members and sponsored a 14-piece orchestra for social events, promenades and theaters. The union, founded by musicians who played music primarily as an avocation, quickly grew into an organization of professionals. By 1919, Local 627 fielded three concert bands for a Labor Day parade. The next year members established an official headquarters on 18th Street. The union operated as a social center, a clearinghouse for engagements, and as a vehicle for grievances against unfair practices by booking agents and band leaders. Affiliated with the national American Federation of Musicians, members touring the country enjoyed the same considerations as their white counterparts. The jazz style pioneered by the members of Local 627 developed along original lines influenced by, yet unique from, the traditions of New Orleans, Chicago and New York.
Kansas City, ripe with plum jobs and immoderate nightlife, became a favored stop on the territorial band circuit. Walter Page's Blue Devils and the legion of other bands from the Southwest were known as territorial bands after the vast areas they toured across the western United States. Bennie Moten and George E. Lee, eager to establish their own circuit, readily swapped territories with Walter Page, Andy Kirk and other band leaders from the Southwest. This free flow of bands and musicians from the Southwest strengthened and enhanced Kansas City's jazz tradition. The ranks of the Musicians Protective Union Local 627 swelled from 87 members in 1927 to 347 by 1930. By 1929, the union members outgrew their modest headquarters in the Rialto Building at 18th and Vine. The increased membership and the strong leadership of newly elected President, William Shaw, enabled the union to buy a building for its new headquarters, fulfilling a long-time dream of members.
Elected President in 1928, Shaw transformed the union, instilling pride, discipline and professionalism in its ranks. Under Shaw's stewardship, the union bought a plain brick, two-story apartment building and small house at 1823-25 Highland for its headquarters. Sketching out their dream, the musicians drafted plans for studios, a Conservatory of Music and Dance and a dance hall on the second floor of their new headquarters. Taking the lead, Shaw raised the money to convert the apartment building into a proper headquarters with a mammoth benefit dance at Paseo Hall in early December 1929. The resounding financial success of the ball bankrolled the remodeling of the new headquarters.
The union dedicated its new home on Sunday, May 4, 1930, during National Music Week, an annual event sponsored by the American Federation of Musicians. A panoramic group photo of members proudly lined up in front of their new union hall commemorated the event. The celebration began promptly at 4:00 p.m., with a parade by the membership, led by a 50-piece marching band.
The festivities continued the next evening with a battle of the bands at Paseo Hall, pitting eight bands in a battle royal: Paul Banks' 10 Rhythm Aces versus Bill Little and His Little Bills, Elmer Payne's Music Masters against Julius Banks' Red Devils, Andy Kirk's 12 Clouds of Joy opposing Jasper Allen's Southern Troubadours, and Bennie Moten and His 14 Victor Artists battling George E. Lee and His Brunswick Recorders. The battle commenced at 9:00 p.m. and continued until daybreak with the combatants exchanging musical volleys from the bandstands on either side of the Hall. Once established, the building remained the union's headquarters until 1970 when Local 627 merged with the white Local 34.
Source: Excerpt from Kansas City Jazz: From Ragtime to Bebop - A History by Chuck Haddix and Frank Driggs.