The richness of Los Angeles comprises stories that move the mind, soul, and conviction. One of these stories is the unsung bravery and artistry of early Central Avenue musicians whose work transformed L.A.’s music industry forever.
BlackMusic, BlackWork, an upcoming historical exhibit of the Los Angeles Black musicians union Local 767, aims to share dynamic history of organizing in the arts that spans the founding of the city’s Black musicians union in the 1920s to the contemporary struggles of working musicians who understand the transformative power of art and culture.
In a major kickoff event to raise funds for this historic exhibition set to debut in February 2017 during Black History Month, AFM Local 47, the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, UCLA Labor Center, and the City of Los Angeles hosted the Jam Session for Justice in the Arts Fundraiser at the Vision Theatre in Liemert Park on July 21.
Nearly 100 guests attended the lively event, which opened with a cocktail mixer reception and mini-exhibit tours where attendees could get an up-close glimpse of select pieces of artifacts and ephemera that will be included in the full future exhibit, guided by curator Danielle Wilson. While browsing the historical items, guests were also treated to the musical talents of AFM Local 47 pianist Nick Smith.
Guests then funneled into the theater, with Lola Smallwood Cuevas of the Black Worker Center serving as emcee. Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas delivered opening remarks describing the importance of inclusion in the arts and the contemporary connection to the historical Local 767 story, and renowned jazz bassist and John Clayton spoke on behalf of AFM Local 47 and the legacy of Local 767 and the work that 47 is doing today.
Local 47 President John Acosta served as moderator for a lively panel discussion on “Organizing for Change in Community, Arts, and Industry” featuring Clora Bryant, member of Local 767, trumpeter; Cheryl Collette and Fred White, daughter and grandson of Local 767 member Buddy Collette; and Steven Isoardi, jazz scholar, UCLA professor and author of “Central Avenue Sounds.” Panelists discussed the role of Local 767 during its heyday in the late 1940s along Central Avenue, dubbed as “Harlem West,” when it served as the cultural and economic hub of the Black community from the 1920s to the 1950s.
The event closed out with a call to action from City of Los Angeles Board of Public Works Commissioner Mike Davis, whose enthusiasm encouraged many to participate in the “Friendraise and Fundraise” for the BlackMusic, BlackWork exhibit. The successful event brought our goal close to $18,000 of the $40,000 needed to make this important exhibition a reality.
As we currently witness a level of Black working-class activism that has not been seen in decades, it is important to examine the lessons of the past in order to reimagine the possibilities of work and opportunity in our communities and its impact on Los Angeles as a whole. BlackMusic, BlackWork will ignite this urgent conversation. By turning this historic union’s archives inside out, the exhibit will document the extraordinary—yet widely unknown—struggle of Black musicians, from Central Avenue’s rise as the West Coast’s cultural center, up to the present struggles of working musicians and activists who understand the transformative power of art, culture, and organization.
You can help make history by preserving history. Your tax-deductible donation today will engage, entertain and educate generations of Angelenos tomorrow. You may make a tax-deductible donation by filling out the BlackMusic, BlackWork Donation Form. You may also donate online at lablackworkercenter.org or by check, payable to Community Partners FOR the LA Black Worker Center, 5350 Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles CA 90043 (Tax Identification number 95-4302067).