In May 2004, the William T. Kemper Foundation awarded $10,000 to the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) University Libraries to create an online exhibit about the history of Kansas City’s Local 627, the African-American Musicians Union founded in 1917 and now known as the Mutual Musicians Foundation (MMF). The MMF building is a national historic landmark located at 1823 Highland Avenue in the historic 18th and Vine Jazz District. The completion of the grant project coincided with the 75th anniversary of the MMF building, which was originally dedicated on 4 May 1930. The Diamond Anniversary of the MMF was commemorated on Saturday, 30 April 2005, and this online exhibit was demonstrated for the public during the evening’s celebrations. The community project partners for this project are the Mutual Musicians Foundation, the William T. Kemper Foundation, Mrs. Betty Crow, and the UMKC University Libraries.
MMF board member Mrs. Betty Crow approached the UMKC University Libraries with a bold plan to preserve the heritage of the MMF, a vitally important institution in the history of Kansas City and the history of jazz in America. Mrs. Crow and the MMF Board envisioned the need for a strong MMF presence in the Kansas City community to actively promote jazz history, the history of the African-American musicians in Local 627, and partner with the exciting developments of the jazz district at 18th and Vine. To this purpose, Albert Pearson, MMF President, and the MMF Board transferred its collection of nearly 700 photographs to the LaBudde Special Collections, Miller Nichols Library, UMKC University Libraries. The Mutual Musicians Foundation Photograph Collection includes signed portraits of members, coverage of union functions and social events, as well as group photos of the legendary bands of Andy Kirk, Harlan Leonard, Jay McShann, Bennie Moten, Count Basie, George E. Lee, the Blue Devils and other bands that created the internationally recognized Kansas City style of jazz.
Mrs. Crow gave a generous personal contribution as seed funding to start the photographic preservation work in September 2003. Based on enthusiastic support from the UMKC University Libraries and the MMF Board, Mrs. Crow proposed that the UMKC University Libraries ask for project support from the William T. Kemper Foundation on behalf of the MMF. Dr. Ted P. Sheldon, then Dean of the UMKC University Libraries, submitted a proposal for the project in December 2003.
The original project spanning 2003-2005 resulted in the preservation of the west, south and north wall photos of the MMF lounge (as they were displayed in 2003), plus 181 individual prints identified by Chuck Haddix, UMKC Marr Sound Archives, for their historical significance and unique preservation needs. LaBudde Special Collections physically processed these images for archival storage after scanning them and creating high-quality digital copies. Facsimiles of the wall photos were generated from the digital files to replace the original prints that hung at MMF, which were prone to damage and theft over the years.
The remaining 300+ collection photos were digitized in 2009. With the completion of this scanning, the entire MMF collection in the care of UMKC LaBudde Special Collections is digitally and physically preserved.