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A Brief History of the Detroit Federation of Musicians

The Organization we know as the Detroit Federation of Musicians, Local 5 of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada, was actually founded in 1881 as the Detroit Musicians’ Mutual Protective Union. It became affiliated with the American Federation of Musicians in 1903, and then became known as the Detroit Federation of Musicians, Local 5, designated by a slip of paper drawn from a hat. The purpose of the Local was to ensure fair and competitive wages among its members and to provide a fraternal organization for musicians to interact and help each other in their profession and in life itself.

Dan Pliskow – bass, Matt Michaels – piano, and Art Mardigian – drums on the stage of the Detroit Playboy club in 1965

Physically, the Local existed in several locations, dating back to a house at 5562 Second Blvd., currently part of the Wayne State University campus. A new headquarters was built in 1957 at 7451 Third Street in the New Center area. In November of 1968, the Local bought and inhabited a private school campus at 19161 Schaefer. The Federation remained there until the Fall of 1982, when it moved to its present location at 20833 Southfield Road in Southfield, Michigan, still within the boundaries of local 5, which includes all of Wayne , Macomb, Sanilac, and St. Clair Counties as well as Oakland County south of Fourteen Mile Road.

Bill Steen – Drums, Dan Pliskow – bass and Matt Michaels – piano, as we appeared on the daily TV broadcast of “The Morning Show on WXYZ.

Local 5 represented, and still represents, musicians in virtually all facets of the music business. Beginning with an early Detroit Symphony Orchestra emerging in 1919, movie and vaudeville house orchestras of the 20’s and 30’s, swing and big bands of the 30’s, a reconstituted Detroit Symphony starting in 1952, the Michigan Opera Orchestra in the 1970’s until present, the radio orchestras of WJR and WWJ, the television orchestras of WXYZ in the 50’s, and the Nederlander Theater orchestras of the Riviera, Fisher, and Masonic Temple Theaters from the 50’s until present. Other theater orchestras included the Fox, Michigan, Broadway Capitol, and United Artists to name a few. It has represented many studio musicians from Motown, Tamala, ABC, ABC Dunhill, Atlantic, Columbia, Epic, Stax , Westbound/Bridgeport, MCI, Artie Fields Productions, Dan Yessian Productions and many independents from the 50’s up to this day. The Local has provided representation for musicians on casuals, club dates, concert bands, community orchestras, circus bands, parade bands, banquet ensembles, and night clubs ­ just about any conceivable musical ensemble. 

To make this music, each and every musician was important, but some names stand out over the past 110 year history. The following were, and in some cases still are, members of the DFM, Local 5: Pepper Adams, Donald Byrd, Kenny Burrell, Bob Babbit, George Bohanon, James Carter, Regina Carter, Dennis Coffey, Curtis Fuller, Paul Chambers, Lamont Dozier, Tommy Flanagan, Brian Holland, Robert Hurst, James Jamerson, Uriel Jones, Hank Jones, Elvin Jones, Thad Jones, Frank Kanderabeck, Earl Klugh, Yusef Lateef, Misha Mischakoff, Steveland Morris (Stevie Wonder), Ray Parker Jr., Frank solino, Sixto Rodriguez, Luis Resto, H. Dennis Smith, Dr. Leonard Smith, Mike Theodore, Robert White, Earl Van Dyke, Dave Van De Pitte and David Zauder.

Thousands of musicians have enjoyed the benefits of secure contracts that can lead to secure pensions in retirement years. We will continue to help those who make the music and keep the song playing for years to come.