Allegations of racism and mismanagement spark a power struggle at the Mutual Musicians Foundation 

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Betty Crow stops at a table where an older man appears to be using Reed's guide as he chooses his candidates. "This is not the official ballot," she says. He keeps the sheet close at hand.

Crow is a former bank vice president. She was 61 years old when her husband, Fran, was killed in a car accident. To fill the void, Crow and her sister, Elsa, began to check out jazz clubs and fish fries hosted by the Charlie Parker Memorial Foundation.

In 1994, Crow married a retired construction project manager named Bill Cox. They liked to go to the foundation on Wednesday mornings and listen to Elmer Price, Oliver Todd, Henry Hoard and others play music and swap stories.

Crow and Cox began to help out around the foundation. Cox worked with a crew that rebuilt a floor. Before the repair, carpet covered a hole behind the bar where a joist had rotted. "It needed attention," Crow tells The Pitch in a brief phone interview. "We were interested in keeping it going because it's a wonderful institution."

Besides helping with the physical improvements, Crow and her husband tried to get a handle on the foundation's paperwork, which was a mess. Crow and Cox paid outstanding debts and worked to establish a new board of directors.

Cox died January 5, 2003, as a result of a head injury. (He had fallen while taking down Christmas lights.) Later that year, Crow stepped in to replace the foundation's secretary, who had resigned. (The departed secretary was Lisa Henry, who has been among the leaders of the current revolt; Henry declined to be interviewed for this story.)

Work at the foundation continued. The staff of the University of Missouri-Kansas City's Miller Nichols Library began to remove and archive the hundreds of publicity shots and group photos that the foundation had accumulated. Haphazardly displayed with pushpins or masking tape in the lounge, some images had disappeared over the years. The board decided to reduce the cost of theft and display digital copies of the originals.

John O'Brien, a foundation supporter who owns the Dolphin art gallery in the West Bottoms, helped with that project. He framed the reproductions and worked on the presentation of Local 627's parade banner from 1930. He also wrote a grant proposal to the William T. Kemper Foundation, which donated $10,000 for the image archiving.

The corporate structure also changed. On January 21, 2004, a lawyer who had been approached by members of the Mutual Musicians Foundation board incorporated an entity called the Historic Jazz Foundation. Crow, Pearson, Mamie Hughes (a former county legislator and head of the Black Economic Union) and others set up the 501(c)(3) charitable organization, which says its mission is to preserve and promote the Mutual Musicians Foundation.

Crow says incorporating as a nonprofit was an effort to make the foundation more attractive to donors. Gifts to the Mutual Musicians Foundation, which the IRS considers a social club, aren't tax-deductible.

Then, last March, U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II announced that he had obtained a $143,000 earmark for the efforts to archive Mutual Musicians Foundation images and sound. The earmark designated the Historic Jazz Foundation as the recipient.

To hear some tell it, Crow's association with Mutual Musicians Foundation became tenuous the day Cleaver arrived with an oversized novelty check. McMillan says the money brought out "opportunists" whose interest in the foundation piqued, in some or large part, because they saw an opportunity to make a buck. Cleaver, McMillan says, "might as well have had a rope and hang Betty Crow right there."


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