Philadelphia Musical Society Records

Collection ID: 
Acc. 545
21.5 cubic feet
Collecting Area: 




The Philadelphia Musical Society, Local 77 of the American Federation of Musicians is one of the oldest continuing union affiliates of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Local 77 was one of the original 26 local unions that made up the American Federation of Musicians when it was chartered by the AFL on November 6, 1896. However, attempts to create a musical union in Philadelphia actually pre-dated the creation of the AFL in 1886. The city of Philadelphia has long had an active music scene; indeed, one of the most dynamic in the country. Philadelphia musicians first emerged from amateur to professional status during the period 1795-1825. A series of meetings that began in the homes of a small group of string ensemble members in 1816 led to the founding of the Musical Fund Society in 1820. The Musical Fund Society remained the primary organization of Philadelphia musicians until it was disbanded during the Civil War. It was created to meet two primary needs of its members. First, it provided a forum for organizing concerts. More importantly, it raised funds for the "relief and support of decayed musicians and their families." In 1824, the society purchased a church on the 800 block of Locust Street and remodeled it. The new Musical Fund Hall became the primary concert auditorium in the city until the Academy of Music was built in 1857.

After the Civil War ended and a new postbellum order began to emerge, interest in music and musical clubs revived. Philadelphia was once again at the forefront of the musical scene. In 1871, as part of the wave of craft unions that were being created in urban centers around the country, the National Musical Association was founded in Philadelphia. Essentially, it was a loose-knit support system of professional musicians from various cities and not a well-organized national labor rights movement. However, the attempt to combine a collection of locals into a national affiliation foreshadowed the development of the American Federation of Musicians.

The Philadelphia Musical Society grew out of the Musical Association. From the time of its inception, it developed the structure of a modern labor union. An executive committee presided over the rank-and-file and served as the primary means of communicating with the national organization. A trial board oversaw grievances between union members, and also served a policy-making role in terms of judging complaints against club owners and other employers. Finally, there was a general membership assembly, which was largely autonomous in handling the day-to-day matters of securing employment and fair pay scales for its members. This basic structure has remained intact throughout the union's existence.

Even in the early years of the local, the union was characterized by a multi-ethnic membership base. This developed out of a battle to prevent the contracting of the many non-union immigrant musicians who had come to the area during the late 1800s. Union pressure soon compelled many of them to pay the dues to join the local and to refuse jobs that paid below the union scale. The union's early history was also marked by strife with the Philadelphia chapter of the National League of Musicians, an independent union that resisted membership in the AFL. By 1904, the National League of Musicians was forced to disband.

The next major controversy involving members of Local 77 began to unfold on December 7, 1928. Police raided the Musicians' Club on 120 N 18th Street, a popular night spot, after being tipped off that the downstairs area of the club functioned as a speakeasy and gambling room for the members of Local 77. They were also told that several Philadelphia Musical Society officers were responsible for procuring and selling bootlegged liquor to Ole Oleson, the owner of the Musicians' Club. Police discovered dozens of area musicians at the bar and at the gaming tables, playing poker. The police officers then proceeded to Local 77 headquarters on 18th and Arch Street, where union elections were taking place. They discovered that several union members were, in fact, conducting bootlegging operations. In all, thirty-two members of Local 77 were arrested for violation of the Eighteenth Amendment. The tipster turned out to be a disgruntled union member who was unhappy with the early selection process of nominees on the ballot and got revenge by telling the police about the arrangement with the Musicians' Club.

Local 77 was also embroiled by the 1930s in a national feud between the American Federation of Musicians and the American Guild of Musicians. Both were affiliates of the AFL. Nevertheless, the two unions were engaged in a heated power struggle. In this city, the Philadelphia Musical Association arose to challenge Local 77 and its sister local (274) in the Philadelphia Musical Society. By 1940, the A.F. of M. had taken a decided advantage in the battle. The two entities established an uneasy truce with one another, with the Guild being relegated to subordinate status. The Philadelphia Musical Society and the Musical Association remained separate, but periodically combined their efforts.

Despite the fact that the Philadelphia Musical Society has had a long time affiliation with the American Federation of Musicians, relations have sometimes been strained between the national and the local. This was particularly true during the time that James C. Petrillo was the President of the A.F. of M., which began in 1939 and continued through 1958. The local sought relative autonomy while Petrillo attempted to exercise broad control of all of his affiliates. For example, Local 77 and the A.F. of M. disagreed over the split of recording royalties that each would receive from musicians in Local 77. There was also argument over the procedure for eliminating "radical" elements from the ranks; from the post-World War I era until the decline of HUAC in the late 1950s, people engaged in the arts were among the groups that were most frequently suspected of having communist (or at least leftist) sympathies. Of course, this problem plagued the labor movement as a whole during this period, but the music world was affected more directly than most. The Lea Act of 1946 attempted to severely restrict the legal strike organization rights of unions because of the fear of their leaders encouraging radicalism. In recognition of the fervent anti-communist wave in the country, Petrillo issued a unilateral ban on all communists and potential communist sympathizers within the union. He assumed disbarment rights that could bypass the trial boards and executive committees of the locals. Local 77 angrily protested the usurpation of its authority, but eventually was forced to give in. Finally, after Petrillo's resignation in 1958, the rift between Local 77 and the American Federation of Musicians began to be repaired.

To this day, Local 77 has remained a viable force in the A.F. of M., although it suffered a downturn in the mid 1970s to early 1980s. They organized a strike against the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1966 and secured a re-definition of "work time" to include travel to engagements. Ten years later, however, only 10% of the 5,000 Local 77 members had full time employment, a tremendous drop-off from the union's former placement rate. The appearance of casinos in New Jersey in the late 1970s did not do much to improve the union's position. Jobs were still hard to come by, as the Philadelphia-area musicians were forced to compete for placement ones from New Jersey and New York. The demise of the Gamble and Huff Philadelphia recording empire also caused Local 77 to suffer. Eventually, a slow but steady revival of the Philadelphia club scene helped the union to recover somewhat. However, the continuing problems of the Philadelphia Orchestra remain a concern. Today, the headquarters of Local 77 are located on the 1200 block of Locust street. The future promises to bring challenges that will add to a long, colorful, and stormy history of professional music and the cultural arts in Philadelphia.


Organized into five series:

  • Series I: Administration (Box 1-20)
  • Series II: General Membership Meeting Minutes (Box 21-27)
  • Series III: Financial (Box 28-32)
  • Series IV: Correspondence (Box 33-36)
  • Series V: Miscellaneous (Box 37-43)

Series I. Administration. The administrative material contains the official records of the Board of Governors, the Executive Committee, and the Trial Board. Minutes of meetings comprise the majority of this series. Also included are rolls of officers on standing and special committees, officers' attendance rolls and the Executive Committee's Record of Fines. Microfilm copies of meeting minutes are available.

Series II. General Membership Meeting Minutes. This series contains the minutes of General Membership Meetings. Microfilm copies are also available.

Series III. Financial. The financial material consists of account ledgers detailing transactions pertaining to the Working Funds and the Building Fund (1917) and membership lists showing the payment of dues, assessments and fines.

Series IV. Correspondence. This series contains correspondence to and from the Local. Correspondence from 1929-1930 is arranged chronologically. Correspondence from 1947-1970 is first arranged alphabetically by name of addressor or addressee, and then chronologically.

Series V. Miscellaneous. The material in this series includes the engraving plate certifying Local 77 and issues of Arpeggio, its official journal. The 1948 Arpeggio is a predecessor officially unconnected to the Local. This series also contains records belonging to affiliates of the Local and other organizations of interest to it. These papers include the minutes and dues books of the Musicians' Club of Philadelphia, which included AFM Local 591, a "colored subsidiary", and preceded AFM Local 274. Also included here are administrative and financial records of the Philadelphia Musical Association (dissolved 1952), the Musicians Protective Association Directory (1915), and a Franz Schubert Bund due
s book.



Accession 545 was received from the organization in December of 1982.



The inventory was prepared in April, 1994, by Charles Greifenstein, Laura Guelle, Frances Inslee, and Bill Meltzer, students in an Archives course at Temple University.





Board of Governors Meetings, 1928-1929 (1 folder)
Roll of Officers of Standing and Special Committees, 1898-1903 (1 ledger)
Executive Committee Minutes, ledger

  • vol. 1, 1904-1907
  • vol. 2, 1907-1910
  • vol. 3, 1910-1912
  • vol. 4, 1912-1914 (+1 folder of index vol.4)

  • vol. 5, 1914-1917

  • vol. 6, 1917-1919

  • vol. 7, 1919-1920

  • vol. 8, 1920-1922

  • vol. 9, 1922-1924
BOX 10
  • vol. 10, 1924-1926

BOX 11
  • vol. 11, 1926-1928 (includes Officer Attendance Rolls, 1923-28)

BOX 12
  • vol. 12, 1928-1934

BOX 13
  • 1939-1945 (7 folders)

BOX 14
  • 1946-1949 (4 folders)

BOX 15
  • 1950-1953 (5 folders)

BOX 16
  • 1954 (5 folders)

BOX 17
  • 1955 (3 folders)

BOX 18

Executive Committee Record of Fines, 1921-1936 (1 ledger)

Trial Board Minutes
  • 1912, 1928, 1927-1935 (7 folders)

BOX 19
  • 1935-1952 (1 ledger & 1 folder)

BOX 20
  • 1954-1956 (5 folders)


BOX 21
  • vol. 1, 1904-1909

BOX 22
  • vol. 2, 1909-1914 (+1 folder)

BOX 23
  • vol. 3, 1914-1919

BOX 24
  • vol. 4, 1919-1923

BOX 25
  • vol. 5, 1923-1929 (+1 folder)

BOX 26
  • vol. 6, 1929-1930
BOX 27
  • 1930-1952 (11 folders)



BOX 28

Admission Fee Book, 1912-1921 (1 ledger)
Cash Books, 1917-1923 (2 ledgers)

BOX 29

Dues Books

  • 1899-1904 (3 ledgers)
BOX 30
  • 1905-1910 (2 ledgers)

BOX 31

Dues and Assessments Books, 1899-1903 (2 ledgers)

BOX 32

Fines Books, 1910-1932 (2 ledgers)
Uniform Books, 1912-1916 (1 led


BOX 33

Correspondence, alphabetical by addressee, 1929-1930

  • A-J (7 folders)
BOX 34
  • K-Z (9 folders)

BOX 35

Correspondence, by subject, 1947-1970

  • A-O (67 folders)
BOX 36
  • P-Z (55 folders)


BOX 37

Arpeggio , 1948, 1953-1955, 1975-1982

BOX 38

Franz Schubert Bund dues, 1906-1916 (1 folder)
Musicians' Protective Association Directory, 1915 (includes decisions of the local) (1 folder)
Engraving Block

BOX 39

Local 591 Dues Book, 1932 (1 ledger)
Musicians Club of Philadelphia, Minutes, 1917-1923 (including local 591) (1 ledger)

BOX 40

Philadelphia Musical Association

  • Executive Committee Minutes, 1938-1952 (1 ledger)
BOX 41
  • General Minutes, 1907-1952 (1 ledger)
BOX 42
  • Dues and Assessment Book, 1885-1893 (1 ledger)
BOX 42
  • Dues Books, 1904-1912 (2 ledgers)
  • Financial Papers, 1943-1945? (1 folder)