Music: Mussolinic Order

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Economists say the Depression came not through overproduction but through underdistribution. One trade that suffered surpassingly in Depression years, Music, owed its suffering to too much distribution. Innocent wax discs, spinning on thousands of gramophones across the U. S., filled homes and halls with music, filled breadlines with musicmakers who were not needed. Biggest blow to the profession was sound cinema which first became audible in 1926. By 1929 the movies' "canned" musical accompaniments had thrown 10,000 musicians into the streets. Radio stations began to use "electrical transcriptions" more & more, performers less & less. The American Federation of Musicians groped for a way to fight this displacement, had to content itself with issuing cruel cartoons and advertisements attacking "robot music" (TIME, Nov. 4, 1929).

A leader in the fight to get live musicians back into theatres and dance halls was swart, hard-fisted James C. Petrillo, president of Chicago's Federation of Musicians. Last week he launched his most daring offensive against music canners by forbidding any member of the Chicago union to make a record, beginning Feb. 1, 1937, without permission of his executive board. Many called the edict brave, more declared it impracticable. But possibly it might be the first move in a campaign of national proportions.

Son of a sewer gang foreman, James Petrillo, who likes to be called "The Mussolini of Music," was born in 1892 on Chicago's slummy West Side. He spent a precarious childhood selling newspapers, running elevators up & down Loop buildings, driving a horse & cart, peddling crackerjack and peanuts on a North West ern Railroad train. Young Petrillo played the trumpet, but so badly that the only jobs he could get were at picnics. On this account he went into politics. He served three years as vice president of the Chicago Federation of Musicians before he became its president in 1922. Highest-priced labor leader in the U. S., President Petrillo draws $500 a week, directs an organization that handles $250,000 a year. Most of this comes from the 8,500 members who pay yearly dues of $16. "Standbys" (commercial radio musicians) are assessed $17 for each broadcast. Out-of-town musicians have to pay up when they play in Chicago. In 1933 his organization was prosperous enough for President Petrillo to build a $600,000 two-story building, to panel his office in red cedar, carpet it with a rich Oriental rug. Members of his organization pay their dues in a big room with green marble walls. They are directed to the room by an illuminated sign: STRAIGHT AHEAD TO PAY DUES.

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