1942-1944: US musicians recording ban

James Petrillo on trumpet
James Petrillo on trumpet

The musicians’ union called a ban on all commercial recordings, as part of a struggle to get royalties from record sales for a union fund for out-of-work musicians.

Submitted by Pepe on May 6, 2007

The union, the American Federation of Musicians, led by trumpeter James Petrillo, had previously opposed the recording of music, or “canned music”. Musicians were replaced with records in radio, and in cafes and bars bands were replaced with jukeboxes.

For over a year no music was recorded by unionised musicians in America. The only important group of musicians not part of the union was the Boston Symphony.

Record companies recorded as much music as they could in the run up to the strike and released this backlog through, but also resorted to re-releasing old recordings. Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby were among the singers that had to release singles without musical accompaniment (vocalists were not in the union as they were not considered musicians). One record company recorded and released Shakespeare’s Othello when they had no music to release.

Youngsters, possibly hired by record companies, protested outside Petrillo’s plush hotel room with slogans such as “Look at the dough he has, and he won’t let us have records”

An exception to the strike was “victory disks” which were recorded for soldiers fighting in World War II and sent to them overseas.

Decca and Capitol gave into the AFM in 1943, RCA Victor and Columbia held out but eventually backed down in 1944, and the recording ban ended.