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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
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Sticker on an old violin case. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Photo courtesy: Joseph Jacobsmeier
DUBUQUE MUSICIANS UNION. Begun in 1903 as the Dubuque Musicians Protective Association, Local #289, the group was affiliated with the American Federation of Musicians to unite the instrumental portion of the profession for their protection and to enforce good faith and fair dealings. (1) It has become better known as the Dubuque Musicians' Association.

Musicians' unions strongly opposed "canned music" of talking pictures and 10-inch records in the 1930s. Theater pit bands and restaurant orchestras were put out of work. In later years, musicians' unions faced difficulty retaining members when benefits and services provided had to be small because dues had to be kept low. Because most musicians were part-time, professionals like Paul HEMMER stated that the future looked brightest where membership was made up of recording professionals and television stars. (2)

During March and April 1936, the DMPA hosted its first series of live broadcasts called the "Musicians Union Variety Hour" from the studios of WKBB. In 1937 the third series of programs was broadcast before a packed audience on the stage of the ORPHEUM. (3)

The membership of the organization in 1990 was two hundred sixty-seven with an estimated forty to fifty performing groups. Approximately 68 percent of the members came from Iowa. (4)

The union president administers the Music Performance Trust Fund that co-sponsored Dubuquefest with the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. Premiums paid on recorded music by the recording industry and distributed through the Fund annually supports concerts that are free and open to the public. Concert sites have included the GAZEBO at WASHINGTON PARK during the Art Fair and HAM HOUSE for the annual Fourth of July Ice Cream Social. The Fund has also helped provide classroom concerts during the school year, the Sixth Annual Free Labor Day Symphony Pops Concert, several Riverfest concerts, and third grade attendance at symphony concerts at the FIVE FLAGS CIVIC CENTER. Cooperating with the Musicians Union to co-sponsor events have been FIRST NATIONAL BANK OF DUBUQUE for the summer Concert in the Park series in Washington Park, AMERICAN TRUST AND SAVINGS BANK and DUBUQUE BANK AND TRUST COMPANY. (5)

In 1978 with 500 members, the Dubuque Musicians' Union was the largest in Iowa with a radius of fifty miles in all directions. In addition to accomplished musicians locally, the group has furnished talent to Fred Waring, Stan Kenton, Guy Lombardo, and Spike Jones. (6)



1. "Dance to Their Own Music," Dubuque Telegraph Herald, January 5, 1915, p. 12

2. Nash, Russ and Ruth. "Dubuque Musicians Union: Profile of Part-Time Professionals," Julien's Journal, October, 1990, p. 6

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Buckley, E. A. "Tuneful Souls With Youthful Charms," Telegraph Herald, April 9, 1978 p. 5