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James Petrillo: Wikis


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James Caesar Petrillo (March 16, 1892 – October 23, 1984) was the prominent leader of the American Federation of Musicians, a trade union of professional musicians in the United States and Canada.

Petrillo was born in Chicago, Illinois. Though in his youth Petrillo played the trumpet, he finally made a career out of organizing musicians into the union starting in 1919.

Petrillo became president of the Chicago Local 10 of the musician's union in 1922, and was president of the American Federation of Musicians from 1940 to 1958. He continued being the prime force in the Union for another decade; in the 1960s he was head of the Union's "Civil Rights Division", which saw to the desegregation of the local unions and the venues where musicians played.

Petrillo dominated the union with absolute authority. His most famous actions were banning all commercial recordings by union members from 1942–1944 and again in 1948 to pressure record companies to give better royalty deals to musicians; these were called the Petrillo Bans.

Petrillo was well known to the US general public and referenced in pop-culture of the era. For example, in the 1950 Warner Brothers animated short Hurdy-Gurdy Hare starring Bugs Bunny, the cartoon ends with Bugs making large amounts of money by having a (presumably non-union) monkey turn a street organ, during which he quips, "I sure hope Petrillo doesn't hear about this!" Phil Harris, the band leader on the Jack Benny radio show, once claimed on the show to have been married to his wife, Alice Faye, by Petrillo. When Jack Benny asked how Petrillo could do this, Harris replies "Why not? - my dues was paid up!".

In the 1950 burlesque revue "Everybody's Girl" the comedians Bobby Faye and Leon DeVoe, playing anti-nudist street preachers, mention that the Devil has "two horns." DeVoe then jokes, "Two horns? Brother, we'll have to speak to Petrillo about that!"

The Petrillo Bandshell, in Chicago's Grant Park, is named after James Petrillo.


  • Macaluso, Tony, Julia S. Bachrach, and Neal Samors (2009). Sounds of Chicago's Lakefront: A Celebration Of The Grant Park Music Festival. Chicago's Book Press. ISBN 978-0-9797892-6-7.  

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