Following is a sampling of the e-mails that have been sent to Grace Blake, Executive Director of the Apollo Theatre Foundation, urging union recognition for Ray Chew and the Crew:
I have been a working musician all my life, and R&B was the music I listened to and performed for most of my early years in New York. As CCNY students in the ’60s, my wife and I got our most important educational experiences at the Apollo – seeing James Brown, Joe Tex, Muddy Waters and many other mentors. I still dream of performing there.
I remember how saddened I was when the Apollo faced extinction because of financial problems. I would hear Percy Sutton and others on WLIB asking for community support and chastising those African American performers who didn’t want to perform at the Apollo. I supported the successful effort to save the Apollo, and am happy to see it continue as a live venue and on Showtime at the Apollo.
I am shocked, however, to learn that the musicians who make your Amateur Night possible are not allowed to have union representation. How is it possible that one of the greatest, most important musical venues in the world would not insure that its employees had the benefits any working person deserves – especially its musicians? Haven’t African American workers, in particular, been exploited enough? Don’t your appeals to African American performers to remember their roots and come back uptown sound a little hypocritical when you treat your house musicians this way?
Please resolve this quickly – I look forward to my next visit to the Apollo, but I’d rather it was on a ticket line than on a picket line.
I urge you to honor the request of the musicians who work at The Apollo and recognize Local 802 as their representative union. In the “bad old days,” it was common for musicians to work at one place for an extended engagement that could last for years, bringing in a steady clientele and good profits for the owners. Yet, in their “golden years,” these same musicians had no way to bring in an income or care for themselves, and often ended up in the worst possible situations.
While this has changed for some players, for a great many others these are still the “bad old days.” I would like to believe that an institution like The Apollo, which I have patronized, performed at and written letters in support of, will do the right thing by the people who contribute to its legend.
As a professional, black musician (who has had the good fortune to play the Apollo) I wish to ask you to respect and honor my colleagues’ desire to be represented by Local 802. Far too often people do not understand that being a musician requires the same dedication to art and to humanity that being a doctor or a lawyer does. I have been a member of 802 for over 30 years and strongly support my colleagues in their desire to practice their art and receive just rewards for their efforts.
-William Foster McDaniel
The Apollo was built by musicians and singers! Why in the world would you refuse four musicians (the Chew Crew) representation by one of the country’s largest musicians unions? I always felt proud of having had the opportunity to play the Apollo with the Boyd Raeburn Band in 1947, with Ella Fitzgerald & the Ray Brown Trio on the same bill. Why not give your four house musicians an equal chance to be proud of playing at the great Apollo Theater?
As a concerned member of our community and a frequent patron of the Apollo Theatre, I – as most of your patrons are – am familiar with your checkered track record in labor disputes with your employees. The performers at the Apollo, to their credit and to the credit of those booking them, are now and always have been of the highest quality. This includes Ray Chew and the Crew.
I am calling on you now to respect the musicians’ wish to be represented by Local 802, AFM. They have voted on the matter, they have chosen to unionize and they have chosen the union they wish to represent them. This is their legal right, Ms. Blake. What is the delay? Act now before this affects the generous support you have always received from the citizens of New York City and nationwide.