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Formed in September, the nominating committee represents a challenge to the authority of the current leadership. The committee came together at the same time that the foundation saw a surge in membership applications, leading one member of the board, speaking in confidence, to describe it as a "plot."
Reed, a singer, worked the door at the late-night jam sessions for four years. He remembers one night when a woman went out on the stoop with a cigarette. She told him that it felt like smoking in front of a house of worship. "That's a special little place," Reed says of the two-story building. "It's sacred."
Reed describes himself as a "political casualty." He compares his struggle with that of a union organizer. He says Crow and the other 14 members of the board had abandoned the bylaws and caused the membership to dwindle and disengage. "They didn't want any members," Reed says. "I guess they felt members would be a problem."
On this cold and cloudy Sunday, one of the regular bartenders, Charlie Minton, has set up a spread of cookies, soda pop and bottled water. Eventually, the board members assemble in the lounge and begin to talk about the election.
Horace Washington, a bandleader who is wearing a Monarchs cap, leads the meeting. Washington is on the foundation board but is not an officer. The president, Al Pearson, resigned in September. Virtually the entire board is on its way out; only one member decided to seek re-election.
A discussion about voting procedures exposes the battle lines between the board and those pushing for regime change. Reed warns that they might have to ask the Kansas City Election Board to monitor the vote. The board scoffs at the idea.
A woman with dreadlocks, who is sitting behind the drum kit, complains that the board had denied a membership application. The rejected applicant, Denyse Walcott, had made out her check to "MMF Plantation." Betty Crow, a salon-aided redhead in a black sweater and peach scarf, says the application was "not acceptable."
Once the procedures for the upcoming election day are settled, a few of the candidates talk about their visions for the foundation.
Toni Oliver, a singer, says she wants to see the foundation serve as a gathering place, educational facility and collective. "We need insurance," she says. "If we get enough of us together, we might get medical coverage."
Oliver also addresses the tension of recent months. "Don't haggle over small things," she says to applause.
By this time, Betty Crow has retreated to the foundation office, a small room off the lobby, and has shut the door.
The Mutual Musicians Foundation is unique. It has state permission to serve booze until 6 a.m. and it's a National Historic Landmark. Designated as such by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1981, the foundation is one of only two national landmarks within Kansas City limits — the other is the Liberty Memorial.
The foundation traces its roots to the Negro Musicians Association, a benevolent organization created by the Musicians Protective Local No. 627. Local 627, which was also known as the Colored Musicians Union, purchased the Highland building in 1928. A 12-band event at Paseo Hall (now a Baptist church on Truman Road) raised the money to create a rehearsal room on the second floor and make other adaptations.
Will Matthews, an accomplished guitarist who plays in the Count Basie Orchestra, started going to the foundation in 1973, when he was a student at Lincoln High School. By then, the city's white and black musicians' unions had merged; the foundation was less a seat of power and more a place to play dominoes.