Like most major cities, the City of Buffalo had only one musicians local union, Local 43. However, this all white union refused to admit African American musicians, so on February 3rd, 1917 the Colored Musicians Union, Local 533, was formed.
Within a year of its founding, a select group of members came together to form a social club for musicians to come eat, hangout, practice, rehearse and “get a trotter-a plate of pork, a pig foot, a plate of beans and a bottle of beer - for 25 cents,” said retired President of Local 533, Dr. Raymond E. Jackson.
The Colored Musicians Club has had many homes; union headquarters on Michigan Avenue, 96 Clinton at the corner of Oak Street, the Masonic Temple at 168 Clinton Street, and then finally in 1934, the club found its permanent home at 145 Broadway.
The Colored Musicians Club received its charter and became incorporated on May 14, 1935. The founding purpose and intent for the club as stated in its constitution:
"[To] foster the principles of unity and cooperation among the colored musicians of Erie County, N.Y.; to develop and promote the civic, social, recreational and physical well-being of its members; to improve and enhance the professional and economic status of its members; to stimulate its members to greater musical expression; to encourage and develop a fuller appreciation of music on the part of its members and the public; and generally to unite its members in the bonds of friendship, good fellowship and mutual understanding." (McRae)
Fortunately, the club was formed as its own entity, which allowed for the Colored Musicians Club to retain their headquarters at 145 Broadway, even after Local 43 and 533 merged into the “Buffalo Musicians Association”. At the time, the Civil Rights Act had called for desegregation, which meant the merging of all segregated musicians unions. What was a positive move for race relations was not always positive to African American Local unions, many of which lost their real estate after these mergers.
In 1979, the Club was granted historic landmark status, and then in 1999, the Club was designated a historical preservation site. Today, the Colored Musicians Club is the only remaining African American club in the entire United States.
In its time the Colored Musicians club of Buffalo played host to many greats including Dizzy
Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Art Blakely, and more. But the club was more than run-ins with the famous jazz elite, it was a community that created an inspirational environment where people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds could come together over jazz.
"One thing about music, people don’t look at color. Jazz was an activist movement. Whites and Blacks in the same room having fun."
– George Scott
To learn more about the Colored Musicians Club visit www.thecoloredmusiciansclub.com/about-us or stop by for a tour! 145 Broadway, Buffalo, NY 14203 Tours of the museum are available Thursday through Saturday from 11 PM to 4 PM.