Tag Archives: diversity

Black History Is AFM History: Learning from Our Past

During Black History Month the AFM celebrates Black artists whose music changed the world. From Robert Johnson’s blues to Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s pop-gospel, they are indelibly linked to a cultural framework in American history, rooted in social justice. Yet, it’s impossible to discuss AFM history and its fight for musician rights without examining the segregation of Black musicians within the Federation during the early 20th century.

There was never an AFM directive or bylaw mandating segregation, yet more than 50 Black locals were established alongside their white counterparts in cities large and small. In fact, most of today’s hyphenated locals—for example, 9-535 (Boston, MA); 10-208 (Chicago, IL); 161-710 (Washington, DC); 65-699 (Houston, TX); and 174-496 (New Orleans, LA)—reflect the merging of Black locals with white locals.

The Federation granted Black musicians charters to form their own locals with the approval of the nearest existing local. The motivations for founding the Black locals varied. Admission tests, which focused heavily on European classical training, frequently barred Black musicians from joining existing locals. Local officers who judged the worthiness of potential members were often motivated by their own bias.

Some AFM locals focused heavily on supporting musicians in the broadcast industry, under motion picture contracts, or in symphony orchestras, where Black musicians were often excluded. With separate locals, Black musicians were able to organize around their own worksites and genres. There were economic and cultural advantages. Plus, as separate locals, they were guaranteed delegate representation at national AFM Conventions. Tight communities were built around Black meeting halls, which provided venues for rehearsals, jam sessions, and socializing.

The first Black local predated the AFM. Local 44, the Great Western Union (Colored) of St. Louis, formed independently and was chartered into the AFM in 1897, along with St. Louis Local 2. In Chicago, Local 208, was chartered in 1902, and eventually became the largest and most powerful of Black AFM locals. It was created by Black musicians who were refused membership into Local 10.

In Boston, musicians had a single integrated office until 1915, when Local 535 split off, allowing Black musicians performing in jazz clubs to have their own identity. In New Orleans, Black Local 496 was organized by musicians working on Mississippi riverboats, who previously traveled to the closest Black union in Mobile, Alabama, to file contracts.

Weak and Fragmented Union

This partitioning of locals was problematic. In some cities, Black musicians lost work because they were unable to join the main local, or they were banned from working in certain clubs or neighborhoods. Other times, they were subject to further discrimination and had lower pay scales that were exploited by employers. The result was a weaker, fragmented union.

In a 2003 IM article, Otis Ducker, life member of Local 161-710 and former AFM IEB member, who chaired the merger committee for Black Local 710, and later served on the AFM’s Diversity Council, reflected on the situation: “During desegregation, musicians across the Federation came to realize they were simply working against each other’s interests.”

But the road to a unified AFM was difficult. Black musicians knew that their fight for equity would not end with the unification of their locals. Their drive for representation and a voice in the community at times resulted in strong resistance to amalgamation.

The first merger took place in Los Angeles, where younger musicians saw the situation of separate unions as untenable. Their publicity campaign targeted both Local 47 and Black Local 767. Following a long series of negotiations, Local 767 was dissolved and all assets transferred to Local 47 in 1953.

At the 1957 AFM Convention, the unified Local 47 delegates were so pleased with the result that they submitted a resolution calling for desegregation of all AFM locals. Fearing loss of autonomy, effectiveness, financial assets, and stability, 56 Black delegates (along with four white delegates), signed a petition opposing forced integration and the resolution failed to pass.

Not all Black locals were opposed to merger. In San Francisco, Black Local 669 had long sought to merge with Local 6, which had refused. That merger was ultimately forced by the passing of California’s Fair Employment Practices Act of 1959, which prohibited segregated locals.

Musicians Take a Stand

In the early 1960s, the tide continued to turn. More groups were multi-racial and conductors and musicians took it upon themselves to take a stand against discrimination. Before embarking on its 1963 tour of the American South, the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra Association adopted the policy of not performing for segregated audiences. While on tour in Birmingham, Alabama, The Cleveland Orchestra refused to perform on the city’s segregated stage without its Black cellist Donald White.

In a 2017 IM article, Local 148-462 (Atlanta, GA) member William Bell recalled touring with Stax Revues in the early ’60s, an interracial tour. “We were like 50/50 with the band and the artists,” says Bell. “We caught a lot of flak, but we tore down barriers because we were a tight-knit organization. If we stopped somewhere to have lunch and they would not accept Blacks in the restaurant, none of us went in. We set our parameters. Some cities wanted to have two performances for Blacks and whites and we insisted on one performance for everybody.”

Meanwhile, AFM merger negotiations slowly continued. A March 4, 1964, merger deadline set by AFM International President Herman Kenin came and went. But, by 1967, merger agreements had been initiated in 19 cities.

Among the most contentious negotiations were those that took place in Chicago, where Black musicians had been excluded from working in much of the job market. Secret merger talks began in 1962 but it would take another four years and a Federation mandate to create Local 10-208 on January 11, 1966.

Houston AFM member Charles Smith recalls his alma mater, Texas Southern University, as being center stage for the Civil Rights Movement in Houston. It was one of his instructors, Campbell “Skeets” Tolbert, who helped to organize the Black musicians to create Local 699 and campaigned to allow them the opportunity to play in the “union” houses. Later, Tolbert was instrumental in merging the unions and served on the board of Local 65-699.

According to Local 65-699 member James Williams, the main incentive for the merger was financial as Local 699 was highly successful and Local 65 had been operating in the red. Although there was little opposition to the merger the musical landscape for Black musicians didn’t initially change much.

“You have to understand the climate then,” says Williams. “Racism, segregation affected every bit of society. Living in the south, it was just part of your daily process.”

In Houston, the road to integration was more the result of the arrival of several well-known Black musicians who had toured nationally with integrated bands, among them Cedric Haywood, Arnett Cobb, and Milt Larkin. Local white musicians wanted to play with them, so integration began with the jazz and R&B club scene. Later, Larkin served on the board of the combined local.

The final segregated local, 274 in Philadelphia, had long refused to integrate. Its AFM charter was revoked in 1974 and Black members who wanted to be part of the Federation had no choice but to join Local 77.

More Work to Be Done

While the mergers may have improved financial conditions for some Black musicians, the number of Black delegates at national AFM Conventions was greatly reduced. Also, doors didn’t immediately open, especially in classical music. In 1979, there were still just 49 Black musicians in 28 major orchestras. Blind auditions began in the 1970s to eliminate both racial and gender bias, but an American League of Orchestra’s study from 2014 showed that only 1.8% of musicians in professional orchestras identified as Black.

The AFM established a Diversity Council in 1996, which became its Diversity Committee in 2003. Among initiatives is the Diversity Award program that celebrates efforts to create more inclusive membership. The AFM also instituted diversity training for local officers. There is still work to be done.

In the broader orchestral world, initiatives like the Sphinx Organization, Black Orchestral Network, and League of American Orchestra’s Inclusive Stages aim to open doors for young musicians of color and explore ways to further diversify classical concert stages. Individual orchestras have launched youth programs in underserved communities and established fellowships targeting people of color.

Entertainment Unions Announce New Diversity Policy Agenda

Representatives of multiple arts, entertainment, and media unions on February 12 announced a new policy agenda aimed at advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in their respective industries. During a press conference, hosted by the AFL-CIO’s Department of Professional Employees, the union leaders called on Congress to take action on multiple fronts, including:

  • Passing the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act.
  • Passing the Restoring Justice for Workers Act.
  • Passing the Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act.
  • Passing the Ask Musicians For Music (AM-FM) Act.
  • Supporting copyright reforms aimed at combating theft of lawful content.
  • Increasing funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).
  • Working with stakeholders, including unions, to develop diversity hiring and reporting objectives for grant recipients.
  • Authorizing funding for Chief Diversity Officer positions at the NEA, NEH, and CPB.
  • Following the lead of states to identify effective diversity requirements for federal tax incentives that will spur more inclusive hiring in film, television, and live entertainment.

“By joining forces with our AFL-CIO affiliate unions, we were able to impress upon those in the media that we are taking serious steps to actively affect working policies that impact the well-being of our diverse memberships, giving a leg up to those members while holding ourselves accountable at the highest levels for our members’ professional progress,” said Alfonso Pollard, AFM Diversity, Legislative, and Political Director, who represented the AFM at the press conference. “Gone are the days when reactionary dialogue after a critical, racially motivated event is enough. This is a permanent move on our parts to establish a roadmap, motivate our unions and craft new rules, changing the way we operate for the long run.”

In addition to the AFM, nine other unions joined in advocating for this DEI policy agenda, including the Actors’ Equity Association, American Guild of Musical Artists, American Guild of Variety Artists, Directors Guild of America, Guild of Italian American Actors, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Office and Professional Employees International Union, SAG-AFTRA, Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, and Writers Guild of America, East.

Diversity in International Musician – A Surprising Realization

The Black Lives Matter movement has raised awareness and made the need for more diversity central to the ongoing conversation. The International Musician Editorial Board thought it was an opportune time to take an introspective look at diversity within the pages of our official union publication that you receive every month as a member of the AFM. We are blessed with a wonderfully diverse membership, so diversity is integral to who we are and it plays an important role in keeping the AFM relevant and strong.

As the publisher of the International Musician (IM), I feel our magazine needs to be representative of our diverse membership. Race, gender, ethnicity, age, and musical genre are all important considerations. I assumed we were doing a good job with regard to diversity, however, to my knowledge, we had never actually quantified (with real numbers) just how diverse we are within the pages of the IM. To that end, I asked Bentley-Hall, Inc. (the contractor who manages and produces the magazine) to generate numbers that would aid us in better understanding the diversity of our cover stories and our musician profile (Upbeat) articles.

What we learned came as a surprise to me. Prior to my seeing the results, I would have said we were performing well, but this was just my impression. What we now know based on the data (see below) is that there is a lot of room for improvement regarding diversity. The chart was supplied by Bentley-Hall. It reflects both a five-and-a-half year look back and a three-and-a-half year look back. What we learned was revealing and eye opening. Our official journal must be more reflective of our diverse membership. We will certainly renew our efforts to achieve a better balance with regard to race, ethnicity and gender.

Report on the 2020 AFL-CIO MLK Civil and Human Rights Conference: “Give Us the Ballot”

international diversity awards

by Lovie Smith-Wright, AFM Diversity Committee Chair and President of Local 65-699 (Houston, TX)

From January 17-19, I had the great pleasure of representing the AFM at the 2020 AFL-CIO Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Civil and Human Rights Conference, held at the Capitol Hilton in Washington, D.C. The theme of the conference, “Give Us the Ballot, Political Boot Camp,” emphasized the importance of us getting out to vote and making sure our members understand why the 2020 election is critical.

Civil and Human Rights Conference

The opening ceremony began Friday morning with the invocation by Terry Melvin, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, and a welcome by Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO. Trumka told us that Dr. King’s words are in each one of us—in our focus, our fierceness, and our fighting spirit. He said that Dr. King’s legacy is shaped by the leaders who came after him who continued to carry the torch that he lit; then Trumka took a moment for us to send out our best wishes to America’s greatest living civil rights leader, the conscience of the Congress, Representative John Lewis.

Trumka reminded us that Dr. King called for the march in Selma because Jimmie Lee Jackson, a woodcutter and a deacon, was shot and killed when he was 26 years old—all because he just wanted to vote. Shortly after the march in Selma, President Lyndon Johnson called on Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act. Today’s Supreme Court has weakened the Voting Rights Act; the voter ID laws of today are the new poll taxes and literacy tests. The attacks on voters’ rights were the fights of Jimmie Lee Jackson, Martin Luther King Jr., and John Lewis; these are still our fights today. “The best way to honor Dr. King’s memory is to lock arms and carry his torch forward together,” stated Trumka.

The Friday afternoon session opened with Tefere Gebre, executive vice president, AFL-CIO, who introduced the speakers for the afternoon plenary: “Give Us the Ballot: A Voting Rights Mandate.” The moderator was Gwen McKinney and the feature speakers were Dora Cervantes, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; Jeanne L. Lewis, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy; and Leon Russell, NAACP. They all explained the significance of getting people involved in voting, because whom you vote for, on local and state levels, determines whether your streetlights stay on or whether you get funding for public schools; the right to vote and the power of votes brings political and economic power in its wake.

Civil and Human Rights Conference
Pictured is the discussion panel, “The Colored Girls: Lessons from the Political Battlefield.” Moderator Elizabeth Powell, far left, talked with featured speakers Leah Daughtry, Yolanda Caraway, Minyon Moore, and Donna Brazile, who are the authors of the book For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics.

The highlight of the conference was Labor Night at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The evening started with an empowering discussion, “The Colored Girls: Lessons from the Political Battlefield.” The featured speakers were: Donna Brazile, Yolanda Caraway, Bishop Leah D. Daughtry, and Minyon Moore, who are the authors of the book For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics. Each panelist spoke of how they got started in politics, and how they were affected by Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, Shirley Chisholm, Jesse Jackson, and many others. Donna Brazile had a tremendous impact on me because she spoke so eloquently as to why each one of us should always follow our dreams and never give up hope.

After the presentation, the delegates were given time to explore the exhibits of the museum; we headed straight to the fourth floor where the history of African American Music is found. It is an extraordinary collection of all the great artists of jazz, rhythm and blues, hip hop, classical, etc. Every musician should see this historical collection.

Saturday morning was dedicated to community service, and Saturday afternoon offered several workshops. The three sessions I attended emphasized how important our vote is. Since “civics” is no longer being taught in most public schools, a lot of people do not understand the legislative process; therefore, we must educate everyone to vote in every election in their communities. Along with our vote is the 2020 census—again, we must encourage and educate people why it is important to be counted. The evening ended with a closing reception with remarks by Fred Redmond, United Steel Workers, and Tefere A. Gebre.

A last quote from President Trumka: “We’re the ones who make America great. We keep it safe … We tuck her into our bed at night. And come Election Day. … We vote! We’re fearless. We’re strong. We’re powerful. We’re united. We’re the American labor movement and we will not … WE WILL NOT … be denied!”

kennedy center

Expanding the Diversity Footprint of the Nation’s Premier Civilian Federal Arts Complex

kennedy center
A view of the REACH Campus with video wall from terrace at dusk. Photo: Richard Barnes

The John F. Kennedy Memorial Center for the Performing Arts (Kennedy Center) is the nation’s sole, premier civilian national cultural center. It is located on the banks of the historic Potomac River in Washington, D.C. and built with federal funds authorized by Congress in 1958. In 1962, President Kennedy stated, “The life of the arts, far from being an interpretation, a distraction, in the life of a nation, is very close to the center of a nation’s purpose, and is a test of the quality of a nation’s civilization.” The center surely reflects those values as Kennedy’s aspirational vision of the arts and, as such, it was named in Kennedy’s honor in 1963.

As the nation’s first national cultural center, the Kennedy Center was created by bipartisan federal legislation known as the National Cultural Center Act. The bill was signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who himself was quite enthusiastic about having a world-class cultural center in the heart of Washington, DC that was second to none across the globe.

Designed by renowned American “Modernist” architect Edward Durell Stone, plans for the center’s construction began in 1956 in the halls of congress. This remarkable edifice was completed, and its doors opened, in 1971. Stone was also acclaimed for his design of the Radio City Music Hall, the New York Museum of American Art, as well as the US Embassy in New Delhi, India, to name a few.

Over the years, this internationally recognized, fully unionized facility has been home to the Washington National Symphony Orchestra, the Kennedy Center Orchestra, the Washington Opera, and Jazz at the Kennedy Center (all members of Local 161-710). It has also been a premier touring destination to all of the greatest international companies that have presented tens of thousands of performances mounted on one of four main stages in this remarkable building. All of the world’s most renowned, iconic, diverse, artistic performers from classical to jazz to popular, hip hop to spoken word, Broadway, television, film, along with extravagant foreign productions, have entertained here.

Expanding Its REACH

Americans search daily for signs from the government about meaningful ways it spends our tax dollars. Well, here’s a great example: For the first time in its 50-year existence, the center recently completed its most ambitious construction project with the opening of this 21st century arts center. The newly constructed “REACH” project is a prime illustration of how this federal facility uses its extensive resources to fund the construction of a major $250 million community oriented performing arts facility that caters to its diverse surroundings.

The mission of “The REACH,” which opened its door on May 29, is to generously invest in The Kennedy Center mission to support artistic projects and community engagement. REACH stands for Renew, Experience, Activate, Create, and Honor the legacy of President Kennedy, says Deborah Rutter, president of The Kennedy Center. This multimillion-dollar project, built on five acres with three pavilions, is designed to host community educational workshops, rehearsal spaces, and small ensemble presentations at affordable rates to patrons, students, and smaller local production companies that make important contributions to the city and perform at the highest industry standards.

This addition to the Kennedy Center is a marvelous testament to the center’s commitment to the diverse Washington arts community. Over the years, the center has seen its share of criticism about the lack of investment and programming in the local community. The REACH seems to be a worthy solution. Managed in part by newly appointed Vice President for Social Impact Marc Bamuthi Joseph, The REACH will be guided and advised in part by a 15-member Cultural Caucus comprised of cultural leaders from around the area.

AFM Local 161-710 (Washington, DC) officers, musicians, and local board play a vital role in promoting ongoing labor-management relations and professional performances at the Kennedy Center. Like New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and hundreds of other major performance cities around the country, the importance of maintaining a world-class performance community second to no other in the world is the mission of our local and our musicians. Each gives tirelessly to the goal of maintaining the remarkable status of these Washington, DC, institutions and perpetually holds their own when it comes to the execution of the arts and the quality of life in our nation’s Capital.

The expanded John F. Kennedy Memorial Center for the Performing Arts will forever be a growing part of America’s cultural fabric, opening its doors to younger members of the community and emphasizing “the joy of being together.” Thanks to the magnificent efforts of AFM musicians, the arts will forever flourish in the nation’s capital and around the nation.

AFL-CIO MLK Civil and Human Rights Conference

Report on the 2019 AFL-CIO MLK Civil and Human Rights Conference: The Fierce Urgency of Now

international diversity awards

by Lovie Smith-Wright, AFM Diversity Committee Chair and Local 65-699 (Houston, TX) President

First, I would like to thank AFM International President Ray Hair for appointing me to serve on the AFL-CIO MLK Civil and Human Rights Conference planning committee in the fall of 2016. Thus, we have been instrumental in suggesting AFM musicians to fill spots where live music is needed. This year the Davey Yarborough Quartet, members of Local 161-710 (Washington, DC), provided music for the awards program and reception Sunday evening. Yarborough is the director of Jazz Studies at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts.

The 2019 MLK Conference was held January 18-21 at the Washington Hilton. I was excited that the Awards Gala & Reception would be held at the National Museum of African American History & Culture. However, in the week before the conference began, we were notified that, due to the government shutdown, the event had to be moved to Sunday evening at the Washington Hilton.

The Friday afternoon opening session began with conference co-chairs Fred Redmond, international vice president (human affairs) for USW, and Tefere Gebre, AFL-CIO executive vice president, welcoming delegates to Washington, DC. The theme of the conference was “The fierce urgency of now.” Redmond told us that labor must commit to reclaiming Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of dignity. He reminded us that King’s dream was that all workers and all Americans be treated with dignity. We need to rededicate ourselves to doing the hard work necessary to make that dream a reality.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka gave the keynote address to open the session. In keeping with the theme of the conference, Trumka reminded us of what King called “the fierce urgency of now.” One year before he was killed, King issued a warning that “in this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.” Trumka said, “This is that time. This is a time to take risks; it is time for us to get uncomfortable, because that is how real progress is made.”

After Trumka’s keynote address, we had a town hall conversation with former Tallahassee Mayor and 2019 Democratic Nominee for Governor of Florida Andrew Gillum. President and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation Melanie Campbell moderated. Gillum spoke about his gubernatorial race. Following a discussion between Gillum and Campbell, there was a short question and answer period for delegates.

AFL-CIO MLK Civil and Human Rights Conference
AFM Diversity Committee Chair and Local 65-699 President Lovie Smith-Wright (left) prepares to take part in the Women’s March on Washington, DC, with granddaughter Morgann Clark.

Friday evening there were several Key Issue Forums: “Women in Leadership: Building on the ‘Year of the Woman,’” “Take Back the Ballot: A Voting Rights Mandate,” and “Mobilizing Rising America: Organizing in the Face of Opposition.” Each of these forums had inspirational featured speakers.

On Saturday morning, we all met at the AFL-CIO building for a Department of Labor Wave Rally and Women’s March on Washington, DC. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Schuler led the list of speakers for the Labor Wave to #StopTheShutDown rally. Then we took to the streets for the Women’s March.

Sunday morning started with an interfaith service. Reverend Darius Brown of the Christ Baptist Church of Delaware delivered the sermon. Following the service, welcome remarks were made by Representative Karen Bass (D-CA), Congressional Black Caucus chair, and the I AM Campaign’s Kenny Diggs (AFSCME). Tefere Gebre delivered the keynote address for the day.

Following the morning session, my husband (Bob Wright, USW) and I took granddaughter Morgann Clark, to two workshops: “Combating Voter Suppression in the Era of James Crow” and “This Is America: Young, Black, and Union.” She raised her hand to speak at the “Young, Black, and Union” workshop, and told us how to reach out to young people. Everyone applauded her comments and encouraged her to continue speaking up for what she believed in. She was thrilled to be a part of the conference.

I attended the awards gala and reception Sunday evening. The Davey Yarborough Quartet opened the gala with a half-hour of music as the delegates made their way to their tables and then performed an hour of dance music after the awards. The following awards were presented: Eyes on the Prize Award to America Postal Workers Union Local 1 President Keith Richardson; Drum Major for Justice Awards to United Food Commercial Workers International Vice President Robin Williams and Association of Flight Attendants-CWA International President Sara Nelson; Justice, Peace and Freedom Award to United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil Roberts; Defender of the Dream Award to Florida Rights Restoration Coalition Executive Director Desmond Meade; and At the River I Stand Award in honor of former National Vice President for Women and Fair Practices AFGE Augusta Thomas (1932 -2018).

The conference concluded Monday after the delegates spent the morning doing community service. Sites for community service were Stoddard Baptist Global Care, Deanwood Recreation Center, Kelly Miller Middle School, Ron Brown High School, First Baptist Church of Glenarden, and Veterans on the Rise.

Visibility is going to be our lifeline in getting other unions to recognize who we are. It was a great honor and pleasure to represent the AFM at this conference. Someday, I hope more representatives from the AFM will attend, for it is an eye-opening event that the Diversity Committee and other members of the AFM should experience. This conference reminds me of the importance of the labor movement and how, together, we can make a difference in the lives of all working people.


The AFM: Finding Strength in a Diverse Membership

John Acosta

by John Acosta, AFM International Executive Board Member and Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) President

Diversity within our union cannot be celebrated enough. While our membership runs the gamut in ethnicity, musical genre, age, and gender, the paucity of diversity within many of the workplaces in which we have representational duties continues to impede our effectiveness and growth. While progress has been made within our profession to foster and embrace diversity, an increasingly concerted and deliberate effort is needed to provide a clearer path to increase diversity among officers and members alike.

Last year, the League of American Orchestras, along with partners the Sphinx Organization and the New World Symphony, announced the National Alliance for Audition Support, an initiative that began with a discussion at a Diversity Forum convened by the League and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation some years back.

Our employer partners recognize the need to diversify the workplace in order to reflect the ever growing and evolving communities they serve. While the AFM embarks on programs of our own, we should also support and engage with our employers on joint initiatives that will help elevate underrepresented communities.

This February, as we celebrate Black History Month and look ahead to our triennial convention, we have a twofold opportunity to highlight diversity within our Federation and help kick off the AFM Diversity Awards application process. The AFM Diversity Awards were created to recognize outstanding examples of diversity that foster underrepresented communities within our organization, such as minority and LGBTQ groups. The awards are also designed to recognize exceptional artists who are actively engaged in underrepresented music genres.

By recognizing these noteworthy individuals, we will help to unlock the transformational potential that has always existed within our union, but is far too often overlooked. A recent Brookings Institute study informs us that new census data confirms the importance of racial minorities as the “primary demographic engine of the nation’s future growth” and that “by 2045, whites will comprise 49.7% of the population in contrast to 24.6% for Hispanics, 13.1% for blacks, 7.9% for Asians, and 3.8% for multiracial populations.”

Our union need only tap into an already diverse membership, a membership that I believe may be a great organizing vehicle. When you look at where our Federation already represents musicians, we are truly a reflection of the current and increasingly diversifying America. From the Grammy Awards to the American Music Awards, from the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon to the Jimmy Kimmel Live! show, our musicians are already ambassadors from minority communities across America. Our challenge is how to engage and activate our multicultural membership to inspire them to organize the next generation of musicians into our Federation, and ultimately become the future leaders of tomorrow’s AFM.

Composer Honored for Celebrating Diversity

Tania León, member of Local 802 (New York, NY), was recently elected to the board of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in the Visual Arts and Performing Arts – Criticism and Practice category. She was inducted just last week on October 5th in Cambridge, MA.

León came to the United States from Cuba in 1967, and has been making a lasting impact on musicians and the realm of Latin American music ever since. The way in which she combines elements of gospel, jazz, African, and Cuban elements gives her a style all her own.

In 1969, León became the first musical director of Arthur Mitchell’s Dance Theatre of Harlem, where she established the music department, music school, and orchestra. Nine years later she launched the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert Series, and in 1994 León co-founded the American Composers Orchestra Sonidos de las Americas Festivals as the Latin American Music Advisor. Hoping to encourage composers of all ethnicities, in 2010 she founded the nonprofit Composers Now, an organization dedicated to empower all composers of all ethnic backgrounds.

Currently, León is on the executive board for In The States and the Fromm Music Foundation in Harvard. Some of her most recent accomplishments include the Mad Women Festival Award in Music, which she received in Madrid, Spain in 2017 and the 2018 USA Artist Fellowship.

To read all about Tania León and her life as a composer, conductor, and educator, please check out her cover story from February, 2018 here: https://internationalmusician.org/tania-leon/ or visit her website: http://www.tanialeon.com/.

Annapolis Symphony Orchestra Works to Increase Diversity Through Youth Music Program

The Annapolis Symphony Orchestra (ASO) will launch the Annapolis Symphony Academy this fall, providing music instruction and ensemble training for middle and high school students. With a goal that half of enrolled students come from Hispanic and African-American backgrounds, this new initiative will help promote and increase diversity in American orchestras. For half of all enrolled students, all program costs will be funded by scholarships based on financial need.

The orchestra hopes that in the long term, increased access to musical instruction for minority groups will lead to increased diversity on professional orchestra stages and in orchestra audiences. The academy program also meets a local need for more intensive individual instruction in Anne Arundel County, as well as a need to keep students engaged in music throughout their middle and high school years. A generous grant from Jane Campbell-Chambliss and Peter Chambliss will cover the majority of expenses for the first six years.

Aside from individual lessons, students will attend small ensemble coaching, guest artist workshops, ASO concerts, and more. The program will be led by ASO concertmaster Netanel Draiblate of Local 40-543 (Baltimore, MD) and Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL). The majority of instructors will be ASO musicians. Students are auditioning for 20 string spots in the first year; ASO expects to expand the program each subsequent year.

Aiding Musician Organizing South of Our Borders

by John Acosta, AFM International Executive Board Member and President of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA)

I recently had the privilege to represent the AFM at several International Federation of Musicians (FIM) workshops in Latin America. The first, coordinated by FIM and hosted by Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba (UNEAC), was a regional project funded by the Swedish organization Union to Union, with support from Musikerförbundet. Our FIM team consisted of FIM Vice President Déborah Cheyne, FIM General Secretary Benoît Machuel, and FIM Regional Coordinator for Latin America Ananay Aguilar.

FIM Latin American Conference

There were several goals of FIM’s Latin American conference in Cuba. The first was to bring together a number of music organizations on the island and generate a dialogue around various topics affecting professional musicians worldwide. The second was to help develop a musicians’ union in Cuba that would be able to represent Cuban musicians at the regional and international level.

Represented at the event were several important musical organizations, including the Instituto Cubano de la Música (ICM) and the collective management organization for authors and composers Agencia Cubana de Derecho de Autor Musical (ACDAM). Also present was a representative of the cultural workers trade union Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Cultura, along with representatives from the national centre for arts schools Centro Nacional de Escuelas de Arte (CNEART), and other various educational establishments from primary to higher level music education.

FIM Central American Regional Meeting

In addition, I was asked by FIM to join their Central American regional meeting in Guatemala City, Guatemala, held several weeks later. It included representatives of established and/or burgeoning musicians’ unions from Panama, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Colombia. From all of these gatherings it was extremely insightful to see how our Federation can stand as an example to many of these Latin American unions of how an open and democratic union can operate.

While perfection in any democratic institution is elusive, if not unattainable, many of these foreign organizations are extremely challenged by the political instabilities they face in their own countries. For example, in Cuba, where we met with the leadership of UNEAC, an artist association that encompassed writers, singers, dancers, musicians, and other creative trades, the level of musicianship and artistry was incredibly high. However, in stark contrast, the ability of those same artists to be able to speak in defense of their own freedom of speech or find recompense when there was a grievance against their employer (the state) was complicated.

Another example was that of Guatemala. For decades, a somewhat violent history in that country caused by the government’s actions against its own people—with special attention focused on seriously suppressing labor rights—has thwarted any union’s ability to survive, let alone thrive. The results are now evident with the absence of any healthy union organization, and certainly not an established musicians’ union. In these cases, the work that FIM is embarking upon in Latin America and other underdeveloped nations, is critical to the advancement of musicians, musicians’ rights, and continued labor presence.

Representatives at the FIM Regional Meeting in Cuba (L to R, Back Row): FIM General Secretary Benoît Machuel; Guitarist Rey Montesinos; UNEAC Musicians’ section at Villa Clara President Alejandro Sánchez Camps; UNEAC Musicians’ section at Matanzas President Luis A. Llagano Pérez; Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) President and AFM IEB Member John Acosta; ACDAM Director René Hernández Quintero; UNEAC at Matanzas President José Alberto García Alfonso; (Middle Row) Sindicato Nacional de Trabajdores de la Cultura General Secretary Nereyda López; UNEAC Musicians’ section Vice President Juan Piñera; UNEAC Musicians’ section President Guido López Gavilán; UNEAC Musicians’ section Vice President Marta Campos; de la Torre Vocalist Dolores Márquez; FIM Regional Coordinator for Latin America Ananay Aguilar; Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo de la Música Cubana Musicologist Ailer Pérez Gómez; (Seated in front) Bis Music Producer Cary Diez; FIM Vice President and SINDIMUSI Vice President Déborah Cheyne; and Composer Roberto Valera.

Guiding Our Brothers and Sisters Abroad

It is equally important that the AFM be involved now in guiding the process of union development in these nations, especially in the early stages. During our meetings in both countries, we spent a fair amount of time conducting workshops about union administration, building an effective union, and government engagement. There was significant dialogue in our Guatemala meeting about the various union structures found in more industrialized countries like the US, Switzerland, and France, and how these structures operate from the member standpoint to union governance.

The daunting task that these courageous leaders now find before them, is to find the time and resources to create a credible union in a climate with limited economic opportunities. It will indeed require a superhuman effort. I believe our Federation can provide the necessary guidance and training. Working within FIM, I believe these goals can be accomplished. With strong musicians’ unions in our neighbors to the south we can help raise working standards, not only for our colleagues from these nations, but improve the portability of intellectual property rights established in our Federation and export these higher standards to other developing unions.

As employers attempt to pit one musician against another, union against union, and nation against nation, we must organize musician to musician, union to union, and nation to nation, in order for our movement to catch up with an already globalized workplace.

I want to thank AFM President Ray Hair for assigning me to these inaugural meetings. I look forward to our continued participation.