A History of Local 802

By Bill Rohdin

In addition to instrumentalists and vocalists Local 802’s members are also copyists, arrangers, orchestral librarians, proofreaders, editors, teachers and vocal coaches. Local 802 regularly demonstrates solidarity with fellow unions (particularly other entertainment unions) and is deeply involved in lobbying for union rights and the preservation of “live” music.

2011 marked the 90th anniversary of Local 802. In December we marked the occasion with a fabulous gala concert honoring long-time 802 member and social activist Pete Seeger. An all-star cast of performers, encompassing many musical genres—folk, R&B, classical, rock, pop, country, and jazz. Those who attended know what a remarkable event it was.

But to understand where Local 802 came from we need to go back about six decades before its birth in 1921.

In 1860 an organization called the Musical Mutual Protective Union (MMPU) was formed in New York City. It was the first musicians’ organization in New York that functioned as more than just a social club. It had grown out of one such social club made up of NYC musicians of German decent called the Aschenbroedel Verein. The MMPU began to seek better wages and working conditions for its members and today is generally recognized as the first true musicians’ labor union in the United States.

In 1871 the musicians union in Philadelphia took the initiative to form a national musicians union, calling together various musicians organizations from around the country, in order to deal with matters of common interest, especially the competition from traveling musicians and road shows. The result was the formation on the National Musical Association (NMA). Although the NMA held several national conventions, its activities were limited and it never numbered more than 17 locals. It lasted about a decade.