Heading: Local 627 and the Early Jazz Bands
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Ad for Sunday Evening Promenade courtesy Chuck Haddix

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Established in 1917, Musicians Protective Union Local No. 627 initially included 25 members, with Harry St. Clair, President; Charles T. Watts, Secretary; and Walter Williams, Treasurer. The union established a headquarters on 18th Street and fielded a 14-piece band for dances and social events. What began as a union for musicians who played music as an avocation, quickly became an organization for professionals. In 1919, the union fielded three bands for the Labor Day parade. Later that year, Tilford Davis, the second President, represented local 627 at the national conference of the American Federation of Musicians in Pittsburgh.

The union spawned a number of jazz bands led by Dave Lewis, Bennie Moten, George E. Lee and Paul Banks. These small ensembles played for dances sponsored by social clubs at Lyric and Lincoln Halls. Larger dances and events were staged at the Labor Temple, capable of accommodating 2,000 dancers. The opening of the Lincoln Theater brought vaudeville and the great women blues shouters to the 18th and Vine area. In 1923, the Lincoln joined the Theater Owners Booking Association (T.O.B.A.), a vaudeville circuit. The T.O.B.A. circuit brought a steady stream of musicians through the 18th and Vine area. Over the years, many musicians, including young Bill Basie, traveling on the TOBA circuit settled down in the 18th and Vine area, greatly enhancing the membership of Local 627.

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