Founded in 1935, Union Local 274 was the second largest black American Federation of Musicians local. Black musicians were barred from the then-segregated Local 77.
Local 274 members included James Adams, Bill “Mr. C” Carney, Trudy Pitts, Duke Ellington, Benny Golson, Count Basie, Jimmy Smith, Sonny Stitt, Art Blakey, Sarah Vaughan, Max Roach, Clifford Brown, Shirley Scott, Philly Joe Jones, Jimmy and Percy Heath, Jimmy Oliver, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Bill Doggett, Jimmy McGriff and Nina Simone. The Clef Club, its social arm, was the place for weekend jam sessions. The bar and performance space was open to jazz musicians and enthusiasts.
In his autobiography, I Was Not Asked, noted educator and music scholar Dr. George E. Allen wrote:
Many Philadelphia African American jazz musicians attributed their success to the atmosphere and fellowship at Black Local 274. For aspiring musicians, the Local was a training ground for developing their reputation and experimenting with new musical concepts. Local 274 was also a place where African American musicians sought refuge from racial prejudice and discrimination. In the union club during the jam sessions, musicians were encouraged to pursue musical careers through the applause of grassroots Philadelphia African Americans who loved and respected them and the visiting jazz musicians who were playing in the local clubs. Many members of Local 274 joined because of these benefits. The atmosphere inspired both African American and white musicians. They learned by listening to the music performed at the Union and socializing with the many musicians who congregated there.
Local 274 resisted forced amalgamation, or integration, with Local 77. As a result, the American Federation of Musicians cancelled its charter in 1971.
But the story didn’t end there. Historian and archivist Diane Turner wrote her dissertation on Local 274. In an interview with ExplorePA.com, Dr. Turner said:
Local 274 saw what was happening to other black Locals and refused to join 77. But she says Jimmy Adams…the local’s president at the time…realized a merger might be unavoidable:
Do we want 77 to have control over what we built? It took us years to build through dues, our property and so forth. So he came up with the idea to start a cultural wing of Local 274 and incorporate it, and transfer all of their assets and property into the Philadelphia Clef Club.
In 1966, Adams incorporated the Philadelphia Clef Club. All Local 274 assets, including the union hall, were transferred for $1.00.
The Philadelphia Clef Club for Jazz and the Performing Arts will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2016.