NEW YORK -- The American Guild of Musical Artists, one of the nntion's major performers' unions, celebrated its 50th anniversary Monday with a golden jubliee gala with hundreds of opera and dance stars from all over the nation performing at the New York State Theater.
The 6,000-member union of solo singers, chorus singers, dancers, stage directors, choreographers and stage managers was founded in 1936 by Gladys Swarthout, Lawrence Tibbett and Frank Chapman and signed its first contract the following year with the Southern California Symphony Association.
In 1938 it was recognized as the exclusive bargaining agent for Metropolitan Opera artists in New York.
The gala $250-a-ticket performance followed by dinner for $500 ticket holders was a benefit for the AGMA relief fund, which serves as a financial safetynet for artists in times of personal crisis and when they can no longer work. Beverly Sills, general director of the New York City Opera, was host and choreographer Donald Saddler was artistic director.
It was to be an evening of legendary singing stars -- Licia Albanese, Alexandra Danilova, Agnes De Mille, William Warfield, Eleanor Steber, Ezio Flagello, Maria Tallchief, Igor Youskevitch, Vera Zorina - and current performer -- James McCracken, Patrice Munsel, Samuel Ramey, Renata Scotto, and Louis Quilico.
The performing dancers represented a dozen companies including the New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theater, Joffrey, Alvin Ailey, Martha Graham, Dance Theater of Harlem, Mummenschanz, and the Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Milwaukee, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh and San Francisco ballets. Also expected on stage were such choreographers as Jerome Robbins, Anna Sokolow, Merce Cunninghamm, Gerald Arpino and Hanya Holm.
AGMA has never taken a militant stance in its half century history but it has had a number of what union national executive secretary Gene Boucher describes as 'confrontational experiences,' including a three-month closure of the Metropolitan Opera pending solution of a labor crisis in 1969.
'One of the main differences between AGMA and our sister unions in the performing arts is that we deal almost totally in the non-profit field,' said Boucher. 'We're talking about employers who are trying to make ends meet through fund-raising, so it makes a lot of difference in the way we approach things. I like to think we are staying in a stable, strong position, with no great crusading.
'I don't expect people in the performing arts to make a killing, but I want them to know that when they sign a contrct, the contract will stand.'