Heading: Local 627 and the Early Jazz Bands
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Count Basie, 1920s Brian Thurn Collection

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Theater Owners Booking Association (T.O.B.A.)

Established in 1920 by Milton Starr, President of the Bijou Theater in Nashville, the Theater Owners Booking Association (T.O.B.A.) grew into a circuit of theaters stretching from the East Coast to Kansas City, the westernmost member and turnaround point. The Ella B. Moore Theater in Dallas joined in October 1924, extending the T.O.B.A. circuit to the Southwest.

Shows traveling on the circuit featured blues shouters, comedians, dancers and specialty acts. To some disgruntled artists traveling on the circuit, the acronym T.O.B.A. stood for "tough on black asses." Clarence Muse, a veteran of the circuit complained: "If an act fails to show they pay and pay dearly, even more than the contract will earn." Others who appreciated the opportunity to travel the country referred to it as TOBY time. Count Basie and many other musicians who circulated through 18th and Vine on the T.O.B.A. circuit liked the easy ambience and moved to Kansas City, enriching the ranks of local 627.

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