Kansas City Missouri 18th & Vine Mutual Musicians Foundation

Musicians Local #627

One of 36 National Historic Landmarks in Missouri.

Perhaps one of the most well-known aspects of the 18th and Vine District is its significant role in the development of Kansas City's jazz scene. 18th and Vine was the home for many nightclubs, music halls, theaters, and restaurants where jazz was played and flourished. There is no other place in Kansas City where there is an area of buildings that signify the history of Kansas City Jazz. The style of jazz in Kansas City was influenced by New Orleans Jazz and ragtime creating a hard-swinging, blues-based musical style. In the early 1920s, Lincoln High School alum, Walter Page, began assembling large bands to produce Kansas City Jazz. Page eventually moved his band, the Blue Devil's, to their headquarters in Kansas City in the late 1920s.

During the Great Depression, political boss, Tom Pendergast kept Kansas City "wide open" and allowed bootlegging, prostitution, and gambling to flourish in the 1930s. Between 1930 and 1941, there were 120 nightclubs, and 40 dance halls, and jazz was the preferred music of choice in almost every establishment. This helped maintain constant work for jazz musicians during the Depression, making Kansas City a refuge for many jazz musicians. The Mutual Musicians Local #627 was established in 1917 and provided essential services and support of jazz musicians. The union helped protect musicians and provide good wages and established performance standards.

In 1928, William Shaw was elected president of the union and he instilled discipline and unity in the rank and file of the union members. He fined members for infractions and required them to march in the annual Labor Day parade. The Kansas City Call praised Shaw and his leadership efforts, saying, "under the leadership of [Shaw]...the Musicians Protective Union...is living up to the name, and the members are profiting thereby as they have never profited in Kansas City." In 1930, under the leadership of Shaw, the union purchased the building at 1823 Highland Avenue. Musicians held a benefit dance at Paseo Hall to raise money to acquire the location. A brick duplex described as a "4-apartment flat" was purchased for $4,750. It was converted into a dance hall and clubhouse, making this building a home for many jazz musicians to meet, socialize, rehearse, and perform with each other. The union dedicated its new headquarters during National Music Week, Sunday, May 4th. The next day, the union held a battle of the bands at Paseo Hall which lasted until daybreak with each band exchanging musical volleys on each either side of the Hall. This started a "battle of the bands" tradition in the ensuing years to celebrate National Music Week.

William Shaw was expelled from the president of the Union in 1949 when he was accused of misappropriating funds. Elmer Payne replaced Shaw as president, but newly elected Secretary-Treasurer Richard Smith became de facto president of the union. Smith revamped the accounting system, attended conferences, and ran membership meetings. Local 627 thrived in the 1950s maintaining tight control of the musical activity in the 18th and Vine district by approving contracts and keeping tabs on union members activities. On December 8, 1957, Richard Smith defeated Elmer Payne and became the official President of Local 627.

During the 1960s, African Americans across the country were fighting for integration, but members of Local 627 did not want to merge with the white Local 34. The members at Local 627 had more regular work, and they feared they would lose work along with their headquarters, which acted as a second home if they merged with Local 34. Local 627 thrived throughout the 1960s, bringing in new members into their union. The union had been one of the most successful African American Musicians unions in the country; but on April 1, 1970, Union 627 and Union 34 were forced to merge by order of the national headquarters of the American Federation of Musicians, bringing union 627 to a close. In 1981 the National Park Service designated the Mutual Musicians Association building a National Historic Landmark.



1823 Highland AveKansas City, MO 64108