We are AGMA, the labor organization that represents the Artists who create America's operatic, choral and dance heritage.
Performing artists live to perform. But their talents, their skill and the beauty they create won't necessarily pay the rent, put food on the table or guarantee the necessities of life. Without forceful advocacy and defense of their rights, artists may be vulnerable to exploitation or illegal discrimination. They need protection. They can find it by joining AGMA, the American Guild of Musical Artists.
The core function of any labor union is to negotiate collective bargaining agreements that protect the union’s members and improve their working lives.
Prior to AGMA’s existence, “work rules” consisted primarily of whatever the company managers decided they should be.
The predictable result of such practices was that performers were exhausted and often ill by opening night. Now, of course, AGMA signatories are required to abide by work rules intended to prevent situations like the example above, and even non-union opera companies usually adopt similar rules because these rules have become the standard for what is reasonable and practical. Yet, often members are reluctant to speak up to enforce these rules, fearing it might jeopardize their career.
Founded in the spring of 1936 as an organization of solo musical artists, AGMA’s humble beginnings were the result of a conference between Lawrence Tibbett, Jascha Heifetz, and Alma Gluck. The earliest members and advisors included the likes of Richard Bonnelli, Frank Chapman, Richard Crooks, Kirsten Flagstad, George Gershwin, Frank La Forge, John McCormack, Lauritz Melchior, James Melton, Lily Pons, Andres Segovia, Gladys Swarthout, Deems Taylor, Fred Waring, Paul Whiteman, Efrem Zimbalist and many others.
Originally, AGMA was an independent organization. However, in August 1937, AGMA was granted a charter from the Associated Actors and Artistes of America (the “4As”) to cover the fields of grand opera, concert, and recital. AGMA immediately began an intense campaign to organize artists throughout the country. By the fall of 1937, the very first negotiated AGMA agreement was signed with the Southern California Symphony Association, recognizing AGMA as the exclusive bargaining agent for all solo and chorus singers and ballet dancers. Meanwhile, AGMA informed the Metropolitan Opera Association that it represented a majority of the Met’s performers and was ready to begin negotiations for an agreement. By the end of 1937, AGMA was also negotiating with the Chicago Opera Company and the Philadelphia Civic Grand Opera Company. The rest is history…