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Leimert Park museum hosts exhibit on black music union

LEIMERT PARK — Timeless music is beautiful; timeless problems are not.

And the exhibit “BlackMusic, BlackWork,” which launched Feb. 23 at the California Jazz and Blues Museum here, reveals a bit of both.

Through oral testimonies and artifacts, audiences will learn the history of Local 767, the segregated union for musicians of color. Since its inception in the jazz age of the 1920s up until the end of World War II, its members fought for equitable treatment in nightclubs.

Though artists like Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker could earn a living playing gigs on Central Avenue in South Los Angeles, they were shut out of the lucrative movie and television studio jobs reserved for white musicians only.

After a three-year fight. led by musicians Buddy Collette, William Douglass and Mark Young, Local 767 merged with Local 47, the white union, in 1953. That gave the black members more bargaining power to push for better jobs.

In the current negative climate for black employment, that history may serve as a source of encouragement, said Sherri Bell from the Los Angeles Black Workers Center, a partner of the exhibit.

“Given our state economy, it’s a good time to have a story of inspiration, of people pushing through to succeed,” Bell said.

Half of the black population in Los Angeles is experiencing a “jobs crisis,” with unemployment at 30 percent and underemployment at 20 percent, according to Bell.

“And this is not even counting the discouraged workers,” she said. “We’re looking at the same issues. How do we get past discrimination and work on improving job retention?”

The Black Workers Center is in the process of formalizing a partnership with the city and county to address those issues.

The exhibit opened Feb. 23. Guests included L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson and jazz singer Barbara Morrison, who performed.

The inspiration for the exhibit came when John Acosta, president of what is now the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) Local 47, was sorting through archives and realized the history of the union is not widely known, Bell said.

AFM Local 47 is now home to big-name stars such as Lenny Kravitz and Quincy Jones, who have their predecessors to thank in part for their visibility.

 

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