By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The woman next door saw us moving in, so we introduced each other. She said, "I'm glad to have you in our neighborhood." I told her, "Thank you very much. I'll be a very good neighbor to you. But any of those people that are peeking out of there, if anyone wants to burn a cross on my front lawn, I'm going to kill them." And she started crying. I said, "I'm the only black on this block. If anybody burns a cross or anything on my front lawn, I'm going to give them a double load of my shotgun to start with. And I want you to tell them that." They put signs up: For Sale, For Sale, For Sale.
The Amalgamation of the Segregated Musicians Union Locals
Let me tell you about being hired at NBC in 1940. There were separate locals at the time. They called me because the drummers couldn't play a show for them. It was the Camel Caravan. That's scraping the bottom of the barrel, because you're in separate locals. This was a [white] Local 47 contractor that called me to work. So I rushed out to Sunset and Gower, set up my drums and I played the show. When it was over, the guys were applauding, and the leader told me that I had the job for 13 weeks. I was really glad of that, because that's breaking down something.
So I came back the next week. I was setting up my drums, and I saw another guy with his drums already set up. The contractor came over to me and said, "Lee, what are you setting your drums up for? That was just for last week." Because of the separation of the locals, they didn't think I had any rights, because I was from the black local. They figured if a white guy comes to town, he's supposed to take that job. So they told me I didn't have the job. I asked the conductor, "Didn't you tell me I was hired for 13 weeks?" He said, "Yes, I did tell you that. And you're who I wanted." He wouldn't back down.
I took my drums down, and I went to 767 to file charges. The president, his name was Mr. Bailey, was a gentleman, very good education, but he was from the South. He was a nice man, but wasn't thinking right as far as I was concerned. And so I filed charges with the national organization. I could show you headlines in Down Beat in red. It says, "Color Loses Lee Young Job at NBC." . . .
Anyway, when that story hit, then it was a big thing. Now we had to go to Local 47 before the board. Mr. Bailey, I never will forget him, he had his hat in his hand, and he was telling them, "I really think that Lee is one of our young musicians, and he may have misunderstood exactly what you said." He's got his hat in his hand and he's kowtowing. So I told him, "With all due respect, I've been doing this all the time and I do know when I've been hired. And I'll tell you," and I told him what was said to me and what I asked. So they called the conductor on the phone and he told them, yes, I was right. He was bitterly against it, and he was angry at the manner it was done. When they hung up, they said I won the case. They paid me, but they didn't give me the gig.
I remember one [union] meeting where one black guy said, "I don't want to have nothing to do with no white man." He had grown up in the South, where they were treated like dogs. I could understand his not wanting to have anything to do with white people.
Of course, we still had to deal with problems after the amalgamation. We discovered, some time after the amalgamation, some things on the new file cards. You pull out Marl Young's card: Marl Young, such-and-such address, piano, and they would maybe underline piano. Then you might find Buddy Collette's card: underlined phone number. We noticed that if you found anything underlined, that means that was a black musician. We filed charges against the treasurer, who was in charge of membership, and brought him up before the board. His whole thing was, "Well, I'm only trying to protect [the black musicians]." I got up and said, "Let me tell you one thing. I have been black all my life. I think I know more about how to protect me than you do."
The Great Ones
I'll always remember Lovejoy's. It was an upstairs place. I was a very young guy in 1941 working on West Eighth Street at a place called the 331 Club with Dootsie Williams' Four Chocolates. That was when I really had gotten acquainted with Art Tatum, who was playing there, doing a single. I was just a little kid who was worshiping guys like Art. The guy who owned the club was named Herb Rose. So Art would tell me, "Tell Herb to give you a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon." Whenever I got that case, I'm supposed to take it over on Central Avenue to Lovejoy's and put it in the refrigerator. Art drank Scotch, V.O., and then he chased it with the Pabst Blue Ribbon. When everybody saw me coming there with a case of beer, then the word went around town, "Art's coming in tonight."