American Federation of Musicians socks back at ukulele

In an earlier post, I mentioned May Singhi Breen’s preparation to take on the AFM union to get their recognition that the ukulele was in fact a musical instrument. A report on her failure in this attempt appeared in the Herald Journal of 3 January 1932.

When she arrived with lawyer, testimonials and most importantly, her $125 (about $4000 in today’s dollars) ukulele, the powers that were would not even listen to her play. The AFM, represented by Joseph N Weber, said that the ukelele was a fun toy which isn’t allowed in orchestras, and anyone can make a noise on it in a matter of days [ed., I suppose anyone could make a noise on a piano in a much shorter time]. The ukelele would, in his opinion, never be recognised as a musical instrument — it was simply a novelty contraption which Ms Breen could play, he had been told, remarkably well.

I understand that the AFM has changed its mind on this important matter.

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Published in: on March 18, 2010 at 6:22 pm  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. After your last post on the subject I tried to find out just when the AFM finally wised up but was unable to. The closest I could get was “sometime after WWII” because of all the mentions of the AFM’s recording strike and folk using ukulele’s to get around it. So late 40’s is the best guess.

    Wonder if the AFM has an archive of the minutes of their meetings that would actually pinpoint it. They don’t have much online in the history department but surely they keep track of such things.

    • It would be interesting to find out. Weber said in 1932 that the AFM had very liberal views, and the Ms Breen could register as a piano player, arranger, composer, but not as a ukulele player. He just wished she’d go away.

  2. A similar problem hit the recumbent bike in 1931. The Union Cycliste Internationale banned recumbents from cycle races, which is why we don’t see them in the Tour de France or any other major headliners.

    The reason for the ban? They would win. http://www.cyclegenius.com/history.php


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