Now is the right time to become an American Federation of Musicians member. From ragtime to rap, from the early phonograph to today's digital recordings, the AFM has been there for its members. And now there are more benefits available to AFM members than ever before, including a multi-million dollar pension fund, excellent contract protection, instrument and travelers insurance, work referral programs and access to licensed booking agents to keep you working.

As an AFM member, you are part of a membership of more than 80,000 musicians. Experience has proven that collective activity on behalf of individuals with similar interests is the most effective way to achieve a goal. The AFM can negotiate agreements and administer contracts, procure valuable benefits and achieve legislative goals. A single musician has no such power.

The AFM has a proud history of managing change rather than being victimized by it. We find strength in adversity, and when the going gets tough, we get creative - all on your behalf.

Like the industry, the AFM is also changing and evolving, and its policies and programs will move in new directions dictated by its members. As a member, you will determine these directions through your interest and involvement. Your membership card will be your key to participation in governing your union, keeping it responsive to your needs and enabling it to serve you better. To become a member now, visit


Home » Diversity Report » Diversity: Courage Through the Lens of the AFMand the American Labor Movement

Diversity: Courage Through the Lens of the AFMand the American Labor Movement


Make no mistake, the AFM’s commitment to justice, inclusion, and gender equality remains a solid cornerstone of the institution. Following the decades-old mandate set down by the AFL-CIO, brothers and sisters who seek strong and just representation within the American labor unit—regardless of race, gender, or culture—are welcome. We should be proud of the AFM’s continued commitment to the cause of expanding equal opportunity within our diverse union.

The AFM recently took another giant leap forward in the fight for equal treatment on the stand and with civil, human, and gender rights, through our new Officer Diversity Training Program taught by Local 618 (Albuquerque, NM) President Tracy Whitney and Local 7 (Orange County, CA) President Edmond Velasco. It is important to note that the commitment to this program is supported at the highest levels of the union’s leadership, including the AFM International Executive Board, led by AFM President Ray Hair. He has been a primary motivating force and, along with others in our union’s national and local leadership, has committed resources to the cause of a more just and diverse union. Diversity and civil and human rights, as defined by the laws of this nation and in the social mores of this country, are here to stay. Due to the nature of the music industry, these principals have always been present.

Courage Defined

Throughout the history of the AFM, the advantages of union membership have been underscored in the courageous actions of professional musicians. They saw the advantage of union solidarity and belonging, whether it rested in self-preservation in the early segregated locals or after the federally mandated local mergers of the late 1950s through 1960s. Despite a rocky start to these mergers, they led to what we now consider our union, which once comprised more than 200 locals across the United States and Canada.

The need to strive for diversity is essential to the development of a fairer, more just AFM that reflects our national footprint and the fabric of the AFL-CIO. Luminaries such as Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie, Sammy Davis Jr., Sanford Allen, Ann Hobson Pilot, Elayne Jones, Cab Calloway, and many others have left their indelible mark on American history and the music industry as well.

We cannot forget the efforts of the union employers who made that courageous turn toward the betterment of our institution. What did it take for them to defy the status quo and risk their own careers and credibility to bring more players of color and women into the mainstream of revered concert halls and internationally recognized ensembles?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines courage as “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” Without the courage of our brothers and sisters in labor and the music industry standing up for diversity, we would not have made progress to better the lives of the talented artists who were once disenfranchised or marginalized. Our union has worked to train and instill the responsibility of union solidarity in the minds of every AFM member via education.

Legendary Academy Award-winning actor and SAG-AFTRA member Denzel Washington, in a recent interview on male motivation, quoted Pastor A. R. Bernard, “Dreams without goals are just dreams and ultimately, they fuel disappointment. On the road to achieving your dreams you must apply discipline, but more importantly, consistency; because, without commitment, you’ll never start, but without consistency, you’ll never finish.” For the AFM to fulfill its mission of equity, it must embrace the new diversity training program and make it a living part of our union.

One “Capital” Example

This treatise is a well-deserved homage to every open-minded AFM member, union employer, personnel manager, and union-friendly music institution that is fearlessly committed to social and professional growth.

I would like to highlight the work of a recently deceased and highly respected musician and union member employer, Edward Walters. For at least three decades, Ed reigned over hiring musicians in the nation’s capitol for critically acclaimed performances at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Filene Center at Wolf Trap National Park, the National Theatre, and other internationally recognized venues located in the nation’s capital. He understood that hiring the best musicians across racial boundaries lent more credibility to the capitol and to Local 161-710 (Washington, DC).

Ed’s tenure as a union employer occurred during the “golden age” for musicians, when live music was at its zenith in Washington, DC. His commitment to hiring high caliber, diverse ensembles, orchestras, and players resulted in hundreds of thousands of union paychecks, AFM-EPF pension contributions, and health and welfare benefits for highly qualified professional musicians of color as well as women musicians.

Ed’s courage to hire diverse musicians was a hallmark recognized by all who worked for him and those who shared a stand with him as a musician. These players became a family of exquisite artists known for their ability to meet any musical challenge in symphony, theater, jazz, pop music, and live television.

The importance of efforts like Ed’s can be found throughout our union as union employers cross the hiring line and become blind to the social impediments that interfere with our union’s value and relevance at this time in history. Meanwhile, the AFM fearlessly stands for inclusion and progress.

Many thanks to our AFM player conferences for their ongoing work in diversity, equity and inclusion, which they committed to decades ago. It’s time for us to stand fast in solidarity for the sake and bright future of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada.

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