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


President’s Message


Ray Hair – AFM International President

    Coping with Fear Through Collective Action

    Looking ahead in this pandemic-driven time of political and economic uncertainty, professional musicians, whether working in the gig economy as freelancers or employed under orchestral or theatrical collective bargaining agreements, are coping with the fear being used to exploit us by employers and by politicians on the local, regional, and federal levels. Fear is the stalking horse of uncertainty. The longer the virus is out of control, the deeper the economic misery, and the slower the recovery.

    The virus-enforced isolation also reinforces patterns of individualism—an attitude that self, the individual, is more important than the group. This dynamic is regularly promoted by our employers, promoters, purchasers, and booking agents. In contrast, collectivism emphasizes cohesiveness among individuals and prioritizes the group over self. For obvious reasons, employers fear collective action.

    Collective, concerted activity is difficult enough to achieve in good times. But when times are bad, it’s individualism over collectivism— “every man for himself.” Workplace divisiveness empowers employers and weakens our negotiating position.

    One antidote for fear is sticking together, because we are stronger together. I’m hoping that COVID consequences can motivate us toward collective action. The pandemic long haul that we are mired in should not be met with resignation. It should reinforce our determination to achieve fairness and make a difference. More than ever, a collective approach toward our employers is necessary.

    Organizing a collective approach during pandemic conditions is challenging when, for safety reasons, you can’t have mass meetings, and you are worried about in-person or home meetings with co-workers and committee folks. And with rampant uncertainty and unemployment, fewer of us are willing to take chances when worried about finding another job.

    Many of you have experienced the fear mongering and bullying of employers and managers who seek to impose regressive terms and conditions of employment, and not just during the pandemic period, but in good times.

    Generally, employers don’t give you things because they like you, or have a heightened sense of benevolence, or moral responsibility. Unions exist because the power of the employer to control your fate demands an organized response. The pandemic has made unionism more important now than at any other time in our lives. Fighting for our livelihood while we are seeing a pandemic reshape the world economy will not be won by begging for scraps from the boss’s table. We have to manage fear and uncertainty by organizing to save ourselves. Again, that depends on all of us sticking together, because we are stronger together. Collectivism.

    Employer-driven attitudes are used to define our relationships with them, providing a backdrop and context when we bargain collectively. And believe me, whether you perform as a freelancer or under a collective agreement, you’ll likely have to bargain your way back into a job when the virus recedes.

    In contract discussions, employers like to script our roles as rank and file, committee people, and union reps. Assessing the attitudes of local, collectively bargained employers, particularly those in the orchestral and theatrical sectors, I’ve divided them into three buckets.

    First, we have employers that are mindful of community responsibility, that are genuinely dedicated to the men and women of the orchestra and understand the need to preserve and protect artistic integrity. Those employers will work with the committee and the union to overcome adversity and foster a vision. They will look toward innovation and will involve the community in providing for the needs of the institution. They will raise and deploy capital. This group will do what is honest and necessary to survive the pandemic and allocate resources to keep musicians safe.

    Second, we have employers who are risk-averse, are precautionary and conservative, with no real imagination. Even if they had some creativity, they would be slow to allocate existing assets toward new ideas or raise needed capital from the community to protect the institution. Even in a good year, they tread water in the interest of survival and longevity but have no growth direction. This group will hunker down against the pandemic to conserve existing cash and assets, which does not include protecting musicians. They don’t aim to hurt you, but they aren’t going to help you either.

    Third, we have employers that view the pandemic as the ticket to force the concessions they’ve always wanted from musicians. I would describe these employers as vulture capitalists who see a once-in-a-lifetime chance to impose steep regression since it won’t look so bad to the public in a pandemic. They will hold your livelihood and your family hostage unless you give them everything they ask for. They are less interested in community concern for artists and the art form, and more about preserving capital at the expense of musicians. They could care less that the perfection of our performances is the reason that capital and assets were built and acquired in the first place. But against the backdrop of the pandemic, musicians are seen as disposable, as a liability. Managers in this employer group see themselves as the real institutional asset, prioritizing management needs over those of musicians. Some are union busters who, if they can, will make you crawl back in on your belly after the pandemic nightmare has ended.

    The lines have already been drawn. The script has been written by the employers. It goes like this:

    “The union and the orchestra need to understand that we are all in this together, and we will all have to do our part to save the institution.”

    That’s as if we were partners—we are always junior partners in the success of the institution, but we are senior partners in the face of disaster. I’ve never bought into any of this “partner” horse-hockey. Do they come around with bonuses when we play so well the nightclub breaks the bar record, or when a big institutional surplus is achieved from ticket sales and donations? No, they never do.

    Contrary to their script, we are not in business with them. They are in business for us.

    Next month—Is a Union Resurgence Underway During the Pandemic?

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    Winners and Losers in the Pandemic Economy

    You might recall that I wrote in a recent IM column that in every economic downturn, there are winners and losers, and for this discussion I’m including natural disasters and armed conflicts in the equation. We can see what the COVID short-term consequences are by looking at what’s happening in our own communities. But what may be the longer-term aftereffects?

    Economic scholars now believe the pandemic’s economic hit will endure for decades, even if a vaccine is approved. Economists say rates of return on capital (cash, land, and assets) will be depressed for at least a decade—with interest rates between zero and 1%. This is in contrast to what happens in wars and natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornados, where capital is physically destroyed. Capital is not destroyed in pandemics.

    Despite the coronavirus, our instruments and our abilities to perform with them still exist. And for orchestral, theater, and touring musicians, our venues also still exist, but are idled. This contrasts with wars and natural disasters where buildings, venues, possessions, means of production, and infrastructure are blown away by nature or bombed into oblivion. The pandemic is modulating labor markets, resulting in more worker availability and competition for jobs—which, for non-essential workers, have become scarce. And in our own case, the managers and custodians of capital are conservative and precautionary. But no one really knows what’s next.

    With the advent of COVID, we are seeing the flight of resources and capital toward the domination and control of key essential markets by a small number of corporations.

    Large mega-companies immediately took advantage of opportunities presented by the coronavirus. Where local restaurants, bars, movie theaters, nightclubs, and shops were shut down, many of which cohabit the neighborhoods where our live theaters and concert halls are located, the market for food, retail, and entertainment morphed into trips to fast food chain drive-through windows, like Taco Bell, and trips to the supermarket. Demand for shopping and live entertainment, including moviegoing, was re-routed online.

    The supermarket and fast food firms are big winners, because they have lots of properties, plenty of staff, and resources to recruit additional workers quickly to re-employ the suddenly unemployed. Kroger and Costco, for example, also have logistical hubs, warehousing, and trucking networks to assure customers of adequate supplies of food, drugs, liquor, and, of course, toilet paper.

    Another big winner is the online retail industry, particularly Amazon and eBay. Web retailers have been giving brick-and-mortar stores like Sears a run for their money for years. The pandemic spike in online shopping is clearly attributable to emergency governmental lockdowns and fear of public in-person contact. This trend has led to major COVID-related bankruptcies including Pier 1 Imports, JC Penney, GNC, Neiman Marcus, and Brooks Brothers. This is a cause for concern, as many of these companies were benefactors of community arts organizations that employ our members. I remember having lunch with Stanley Marcus and Dallas Symphony executives, years ago. Neiman Marcus was a solid supporter of the Dallas Orchestra.

    Still another big winner is the streaming entertainment industry—Amazon, Netflix, Disney, NBC/Universal (Peacock), CBS All-Access, Apple, SiriusXM, Pandora, Spotify, Google-owned YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Professional musicians work under Federation agreements for content producers and we collect and distribute royalties for digital uses of our members’ work. There is certainly a COVID-related uptick in consumption of digital media, but will it be enough to offset the loss of film producers’ television advertising revenue and worldwide box office receipts?

    Then we have the big winners in the delivery business—UPS, FedEx, Amazon (again)—dominating the distribution of everything, products small and large.

    The paranoia about trading in cash, thought by some to facilitate virus transmission, has benefitted the credit card companies and contactless payment services—Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, and Apple Pay.

    The hospitality and travel industries are heavy losers and on life support, where winners Zoom, Skype, Webex, and BlueJeans have offset the need for hotel rooms, air tickets, and rental cars.

    The billionaires are getting richer from this pandemic, while millions of working people are out of their jobs. Mega-companies are gaining big chunks of ground, not just in market share, but in their ability to influence politicians, and entire governments.

    The richest person on earth, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, now has a net worth of $196 billion, including a $16.2 billion bump he accumulated during one week in July, and $7 billion gained during a single day.

    Unlike other disasters over the past 100 years that killed tens of millions and diminished the available workforce—World War I (21 million dead), 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic (50 to 100 million dead), or World War II (70 to 85 million dead)—COVID consequences will not result in a shortage of working people. It’s entirely the opposite.

    The disruption and closure of small businesses and large retail chains, where stores fail to reopen, jobs are permanently lost. Millions of workers and business owners in non-essential sectors are facing catastrophe, which will keep unemployment levels high. The workforce is largely divided into three categories: those able to work from home, essential workers who have to report to work, and over 50 million unemployed. The longer the disruptions, the deeper the pain and the slower the recovery.

    And because COVID hit the leisure and live entertainment sectors the hardest and will be among the last to recover, the gig economy is flooded with unemployed musicians. Don’t be surprised when a gig opportunity arises for a restaurant, bar, or party date and the purchaser or booking agent wants you to work for lower pay because of the fierce competition for jobs.

    I have walked you through these difficult issues to help illustrate the obvious. Coronavirus has strengthened the power of the employers.

    Next month’s column: Coping with Fear Through Collective Action

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    More COVID Economic Aid – Tell Congress to Act Now!

    As we enter the fifth month of the pandemic, the live entertainment industry is still shutdown. With Depression-era unemployment and with the virus out of control, no one knows when it will be safe enough to reopen our performance venues, to end this isolation, reconnect with our audiences and with each other.

    In this period of radical uncertainty, many believe the pandemic will cause shifts in political and economic power that will only become clear later. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the US unemployment rate will stay above pre-pandemic levels for a decade, predicting that unemployment in the fourth quarter of 2030 will be 4.4%. The February pre-pandemic unemployment rate was 3.5%, a 50-year low. Current projections of 14% unemployment for the fourth quarter this year do not reflect the resurgence of virus cases that have led many states to re-impose restrictions and scale back reopening plans. 

    As I write today, July 16, over 50 million people have filed for unemployment benefits, putting the real unemployment rate near the Depression-era peak of 25%. With a V-shaped recovery considered unlikely, a growing number of scientists, politicians, and economists say that controlling the virus is the key to economic recovery. 

    All of us are under an enormous amount of stress due to the economic effects of the pandemic, which are also viewed against the background of pandemic politics. We see politicians deciding whether to risk tens, maybe even hundreds of thousands of lives on the one hand, or whether to risk the economy on the other. But as the agony of the pandemic plays out, the economy is stalling during the reopening process with exponential spread of the disease. 

    There is misery on either side of the equation. The lockdowns have given rise to tens of millions of unemployed, a rash of bankruptcies, and severe financial pain. But there is also an extended period of suffering when opening the economy too soon results in a rebound in infections. With science saying a full year of pandemic infectiousness is looming, even with the discovery of a vaccine, additional government intervention and economic assistance is needed. 

    The Federation played an important role in the lobbying process toward initial emergency supplemental COVID legislation in March, which gave state unemployment programs the latitude to pay freelancers and gig workers unemployment benefits. The added federal boost to state payments of $600 per week was expected to end (as of this writing) the last week of July. 

    We are lobbying hard to extend those payments. We know that it is likely, due to the non-essential nature of our employment, that for the entertainment industry and for musicians in particular, both for regularly employed and for freelancers, the devastation to our business may result in our being among the last to return to work. Returning to anything resembling pre-COVID working conditions looks more and more distant. 

    In March, the government enacted a four-month legislative economic relief program that included expanded unemployment benefits, small business assistance, tax-filing delays, and eviction moratoriums. But in light of the virus resurgence that is choking the restarting of the economy, it won’t be enough.

    New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s early aggressive intervention both saved lives and led to a quicker rebound to help rebuild demand for jobs. The New York approach, which imposed a short-term lockdown and solid social distancing measures, got control of the infection rate and limited the spread of the disease. Governor Cuomo saw it necessary to mitigate the deadly impact of the virus because he believed and clearly understood that without a healthy population, there can be no healthy economy. 

    More governmental aid is necessary not just for our unemployed, but also for the small and medium-sized businesses that employ us. Without it, you can expect many more businesses to file bankruptcies, which will cascade through and crash the financial and real estate markets. Banks will be in trouble if business debt is not serviced. Landlords will not get rental payments, which will lead to additional bankruptcies, debt charge offs, and more banking sector problems. And if we can’t enable the scientists to find ways to treat and contain the disease quickly, more people will get sicker, more companies are going to crash, and this shaky, sputtering economic reopening will regress further.

    What we can do today is what we did in March. We can contact Congress, particularly the Senate, to demand action to aid the unemployed, including gig workers and professional musicians whose jobs disappeared overnight, and whose loss of work has no end in sight. 

    In May, the US House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act, which would extend expanded unemployment benefits through January 2021. But the Senate has still not voted on this critical piece of legislation. I contacted my senators to tell them to support critical pieces of the HEROES Act in the next COVID-19 relief bill including:

    • Extending Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which provides an additional $600 per week to the unemployed.
    • Providing a 100% COBRA premium subsidy for lost access to employee-based insurance.
    • Safeguarding renters and homeowners from evictions and foreclosures.
    • Providing assistance to struggling multiemployer pension plans, including the AFM plan.
    • Increasing funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and other arts organizations.
    • Additional financial aid for small businesses.

    Will you join me in writing to our senators now? Please copy the following link and follow the prompts:

    Our health and livelihood, and that of our families and friends, and reducing short- and long-term consequences of this terrible pandemic may very well depend on what happens in Congress between now and August 8, when the Senate is scheduled to recess. Again, please visit the link above and urge your two senators to support our interests. Don’t wait. Please do it today!

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    We Will Not Sit on the Sidelines and Be Silent: Black Lives Matter

    The unconscionable displays of racism in America during the past weeks and months have prompted millions of people around the world to take to the streets in protest over the inhuman, intolerable cruelty that black Americans have endured from this nation’s system of criminal justice. The protests have come against the background of the global coronavirus pandemic, governmental economic shutdowns, and Depression-era levels of unemployment, all of which have adversely and disproportionately affected people of color. Black Lives Matter. Every life matters. We will not sit on the sidelines and be silent. We add our voice to the growing worldwide chorus against racism in all forms. Enough is enough.

    The American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada condemns, in the strongest terms, the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor and David McAtee in Louisville, Tony McDade in Tallahassee, and all of the other murders of black people by law enforcement personnel, lynch mobs, and vigilante groups in recent weeks, months, and years, and throughout the history of this nation. The AFM also condemns police brutality and acts of violence against all persons, of every age, race, creed, and color, of every gender, of every nationality and religion. The existence of racism, racial attitudes and bias, bigotry, and bullying are intolerable in our communities, in our union, in any other union (including police unions), and in any workplace. We oppose racial discrimination of every kind, in every place, and we decry the hatred that motivates it.

    The senseless murder of George Floyd and its aftermath has illuminated deep rifts in American society and its culture of racism. I join those who are aggrieved and angered that America’s law enforcement and political systems have not rooted out racism. To do that, those in political power will need to squarely address the underlying issues that enable it.

    For me, this round of intense activism is different. Watching the world erupt in protest transported me right back to my childhood in Meridian, Mississippi, where I grew up and became a young, working musician, gigging throughout the deep south in the 1960s during the most pivotal era of this nation’s civil rights movement. I remembered it all like it was yesterday. The grief and anger burned in me then. Because racism also affected me as a musician, the events of yesterday and the need to speak out against injustice led me to the AFM and union activism, where collective voices can make a difference.

    Where I grew up, racism was more than institutional or systemic. It was a culture that harkened back to the Civil War. Criticism of the status quo was not tolerated, and was met with bullying and violence.

    Mississippi in the 1960s still carried on its books a variety of Jim Crow laws, enacted between 1871 and 1965, which originated from the black codes passed immediately after the civil war to mandate and enforce segregation. What follows is a Mississippi Jim Crow statute applicable to the entertainment business:

    “Every person ... operating ... any public hall, theater, opera house, motion picture show or any place of public entertainment or public assemblage which is attended by both white and colored persons, shall separate the white race and the colored race and shall set apart and designate ... certain seats therein to be occupied by white persons and a portion thereof, or certain seats therein, to be occupied by colored persons.”

    Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett, a staunch segregationist who ran the state from 1960 to 1964, linked segregation to the Bible. A Baptist Sunday school teacher, he declared, “The Good Lord was the original segregationist. He made us white because He wanted us white and intended we should stay that way.”

    As I witnessed the George Floyd protest movement take hold around the world, I could feel the racism, the hatred, and the police brutality of a half-century ago. I flashed back to the racially motivated assassinations and violence that swirled around us during that time:

    • September 1962, Oxford, Mississippi—The riots at Ole Miss (University of Mississippi) where two civilians were killed as white rioters burned cars and pelted federal agents and soldiers with small arms fire in response to the enrollment of its first black student, James Meredith.
    • June 12, 1963, Jackson, Mississippi—Medgar Evers, a black civil rights leader who worked to end the segregation of public facilities and expand voting rights for black people was shot at close range by a high-powered rifle in the driveway outside his home.
    • Sunday, September 15, 1963, Birmingham, Alabama—The Ku Klux Klan bombed the 16th Avenue Baptist Church. Four black girls who had been attending Sunday school, Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley, aged 11 through 14, were killed in the blast.
    • June 21, 1964, Neshoba County, Mississippi, on State Highway 19, fifteen miles northwest of Meridian, Mississippi—James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman, three civil rights workers who were attempting to register black people to vote, were pulled over by Neshoba County lawmen while driving back to Meridian and shot to death by Klan members.
    • January 10, 1966, Hattiesburg, Mississippi—Vernon Dahmer, a black farmer and grocer, was burned to death when Klansmen firebombed his home. Dahmer had served two terms as president of the Hattiesburg NAACP chapter and led black voter registration drives. Denied in his own attempt to register to vote, Dahmer filed suit against the county registrar, who would only authorize the registration of a black person if they could answer the question, “How many bubbles are in a bar of soap?”
    • April 4, 1968, Memphis, Tennessee—The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., the non-violent activist who led the 1955 Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott, the 1963 Birmingham protests, who organized the 1963 March on Washington where he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, and who helped organized the 1965 Selma to Montgomery protest marches, was assassinated.

    During those days, our family would gather around the television set and watch the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. Seeing network news reports on the racial violence that was unfolding around us was a shock, not only for us, but for people everywhere. Then, as social media and cable news are doing today, the airing of film footage of civil rights protests, and the terrible images of police brutality on television helped propel the 1960s civil rights movement forward.

    Seeing the struggle on TV changed behavior. Public perception shifted. No longer could racist politicians and their local and state law enforcement officers intimidate the public and keep black people in their place by killing and maiming demonstrators in broad daylight without accountability. TV coverage of Birmingham Police Commissioner Bull Connor’s tactics during that city’s 1963 protests, which included the use of fire hoses and police attack dogs against rights activists and child protesters, horrified the nation and promoted passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

    Today, social media is the force multiplier in renewing awareness about racism and racial policing. Nearly everybody on the planet now carries a cellphone video camera in their pocket. They showed us the final horrible moments of George Floyd and Eric Garner (NYPD, July 17, 2014) as police snuffed out their lives. Eric Garner repeated 11 times that he couldn’t breathe. The digital distribution of these and other disturbing videos of police brutality have had a demonstrable impact upon public conscience and the trend toward public activism.

    Another result is the rise of an urgent national priority toward police reform. The introduction of bipartisan police reform bills are expected in both houses of Congress. Our congressional champion on current performance rights legislation—the AM-FM Act—Jerry Nadler (D-NY), who also serves as House Judiciary Committee co-chair, said, “There is real pressure [for police reform] from the American people. There must be real change. Anyone who gets in the way will be bowled over.”

    Anti-racism protests have renewed the battle over monuments to Confederate politicians and soldiers. A statue of Confederate president Jefferson Davis was toppled in the former Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. A statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee was torn down in Montgomery, Alabama, at a high school that bears his name. Over 700 confederate monuments still stand across the south, many of them erected in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s as a counter-reaction to civil rights protests of that era.

    George Floyd’s death and the ongoing series of protests that have spread around the world as part of the Black Lives Matter movement are certainly about ending police brutality and the culture of racism that still exists in America, a century and a half after the US civil war. But the issues are much larger than racial policing and the dark depths of prejudice and racism, which is a virus as deadly as the COVID-19 infections that stalk us.

    I ask you to please go to and read Reverend Martin Luther King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” written in August 1963. I re-read it when the protests broke out. It is as timely today as it was 57 years ago.

    In his letter, Dr. King discusses, among many other things, the commendations by area clergy toward police for keeping “order” and “preventing violence” during the 1963 Birmingham demonstrations against injustice. “I don’t believe you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its angry, violent dogs literally biting six unarmed, nonviolent Negroes,” he said. Did imposing law and order result in justice? Not in Dr. King’s book. His point is obvious. The unjust use of law and order to preserve an unjust system is, itself, unjust. Please remember this when you hear the politicians’ clarion call for law and order.

    The bigger picture in all of this is humanness. It’s about how we treat each other. It’s about whether we care for those who hurt, and whether we can accept the premise that if one hurts, we all hurt. It’s about whether we can listen to each other with the intent to understand, not just to react to stay stuck in our own point of view. It’s about caring for other people who don’t look like you, who don’t talk or act like you. People who have problems are many. People who care about others are fewer. To get to where we need to be, we’ve got to get there together.

    Jon Batiste (playing piano), musical director for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and member of Local 802 (New York City), led WE ARE peaceful protests in New York City on June 6 and 12. The June 12 event at Barclays Center (pictured) was an action in solidarity for black lives, a celebration of black lives through live music, a voter registration drive, and a fundraiser for the Equal Justice Initiative. #WeAre

    I’ve heard people ask, What is the union doing about this? I say: a lot. Take a good hard look at how our employers, the managers and the media companies, treat us. Injustice is not just racial. It’s also about economic injustice and the selfish politicians who play both sides to perpetuate it. Slavery didn’t altogether disappear 150 years ago. It morphed into employer exploitation. Like the rich film and TV companies that want to eliminate residuals and cut our pay. Like the Kennedy Center honchos who grabbed $25 million in pandemic assistance from Congress then fired the orchestra hours afterward. Yes, we can make speeches and issue statements as symbolic gestures, but if we stand up together against those who oppress us, we can make a difference.

    What can you do? You can get involved. As events unfold, look underneath the surface and try to see the underlying causes. Dig deep into local, state, and federal political candidates and find out what they plan to do about racial and economic injustice in America. Resist the status quo, and keep resisting, even if it makes the police unions furious. As Dr. King taught us, don’t be silent about things that matter. Vote for justice. And don’t go vote and go back to sleep. Stay on them about police, pension, and performance rights reform and anything else that matters. And above all else, please care about your brothers and sisters.

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    Thank You, Brother Ray Chew — You Are Answering Members’ Prayers

    As Easter weekend came amid the global pandemic, with virus infections on an upward curve and the spread accelerating across America, Canada, and the world, prayers of hope, healing, and redemption were part of the rituals of professional musicians and their families, all locked down in their homes, locked away from live interaction with their audiences, and locked out of their jobs. The weeks leading up to Easter were also marked by a flurry of interest in raising funds for entertainment industry workers—including professional musicians—whose jobs were among the first to disappear due to social distancing measures and emergency governmental restrictions, and who will likely be the last to return to gainful employment.

    No sooner had the pandemic Easter celebration concluded than I received a call from Ray Chew, a distinguished member of Local 802, New York City, whom I met early on in my presidency during his benefit performance for Local 802’s Musicians Assistance Program. Later, I ran into Ray Chew again when ABC television attempted to downsize its orchestra and implement licensed pre-recorded tracks on Dancing with the Stars. And yet again, when our campaign for streaming residuals in film and live television kicked into gear last year, Ray Chew did not hesitate to stand up and speak out in support of his colleagues, his union, and musicians everywhere during the process.

    Ray Chew is one hell of a musician. He recently celebrated his 10th season as music director for Dancing with the Stars. Previously, he served as music director for Fox TV’s American Idol, and Showtime at the Apollo. He has helmed award-winning musical events with Carrie Underwood, Rihanna, Aretha Franklin, Justin Bieber, Lenny Kravitz, James Taylor, and Quincy Jones, and has directed such prestigious events as the 2008 Democratic National Convention, the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards, the President’s Neighborhood Inaugural Ball, and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

    ray chew

    So when Ray Chew called, I answered and listened. Ray wanted to partner with the Federation to develop a four-part virtual series featuring a fundraising portal that would accept donations for relief funds to help AFM freelance musicians whose jobs were lost due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

    “I want to do something to bring people together to raise funds for my musician brothers and sisters who are struggling right now because of the pandemic,” Ray said. “Freelance musicians are in an unprecedented crisis. The overnight loss of work has left thousands of musicians unable to pay their rent or buy food to feed their families. I am inviting my musical friends and fellow musicians to join me in putting together a series of shows that will bring us together to sing, perform, laugh, and share stories that will uplift us, inspire us and raise funds at this critical time.”

    To help accomplish these vital and timely goals, I appointed a team of AFM staff to work with Ray, led by my assistant and former Local 802 president, Tino Gagliardi. Our team included International Executive Board member Dave Pomeroy (also president of Nashville Local 257), Secretary-Treasurer Jay Blumenthal, AFM counsel Jennifer Garner and Russ Naymark, Communications Director Rose Ryan, and Electronic Media Services Division Director Pat Varriale.

    Jay and Jennifer worked with the AFL-CIO’s Union Community Fund to establish a sub-fund to accept tax-deductible donations for the benefit of AFM members. Dave, Pat, and Russ Naymark developed an appropriate media agreement and waiver option for use by the show to cover the performances of AFM and SAG-AFTRA members. Rose Ryan helped promote the series through social media and internal communications. In the space of little more than two weeks, the first of four fundraising “Ray Chew Live Freelancer Fundraiser” episodes aired at 9 p.m. EDT, Thursday, May 7, on Facebook Live. Additional episodes aired on successive Thursdays, May 14, 21, and 28.

    Ray’s musical guests thus far (as of press time) have included performances by legendary jazz pianist Chick Corea, bassist Marcus Miller, P-funkster George Clinton, and interviews with TV newser Soledad O’Brien and New York Times best-selling author Iyanla Vanzant.

    To donate to this special AFM Musicians Relief Fund, go to and enter the amount you wish to contribute. All donations are tax deductible.

    The effort has raised thousands of dollars for freelance musicians. “We’ve raised awareness and lots of support for musicians in the industry who are suffering,” said Ray Chew. “I want to thank the person who gave one dollar, and also the person who gave a thousand dollars. I know they gave from the heart. When musicians have the opportunity to go back to work and perform again, it’s going to be great. I also want to thank my union for working to make this possible,” he said.

    If you are a freelance musician and wish to apply for relief from AFM’s Musicians Relief Fund, go to, download the application and follow the instructions.

    Ray Chew rolled up his sleeves to help our members. On behalf of the entire membership of the American Federation of Musicians of the US and Canada, I want to thank him, his production team, AFM staff and the good folks at the AFL-CIO for their swift and exceptional response at a critical moment in the lives of musicians whose prayers of hope during Easter weekend may now be answered.

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