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Black Musicians Union 208

5220-26 S Drexel Ave.

Rather than submit to a white union’s discrimination, Black musicians in Chicago formed their own union, Local 208 of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), in 1902. This was the first, and was among the most powerful, Black musicians’ union locals in the country. In 1918, Local 208 purchased its own building on 3934 S. State Street, which became its headquarters for decades. The union ensured that a large membership of famous and up-and-coming musicians in Chicago would have access to jobs at standard wage scales and launched an official publication, Music Master. Members included Ahmad Jamal, Red Saunders and Muddy Waters. In 1954, Local 208 purchased this apartment building on S. Drexel to provide low-cost living for its members who needed housing. Along with offering residences, the Drexel building also became known for its jam sessions that would frequently go late into the night. Local 208 merged with the white Local 10 in 1966 and continues to operate as Local 10-208 of the AFM.

– A.C. 

Caption: Former location of Black Musicians Union 208

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