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American Guild of Musical Artists Records

Call Number



1918-2007, inclusive
; 1935-1965, bulk


American Guild of Musical Artists
American Guild of Musical Artists (Role: Donor)
Mays, Linda (Role: Donor)


15 Linear Feet (16 boxes)
3 websites in 3 archived websites.

Language of Materials

Materials are in English.


The American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) was founded in 1936 in New York City to protect the interests of solo musical artists in the field of opera and later expanded to include dancers, choreographers and some categories of stage managers. The union became affiliated with the Associated Actors and Artistes of America (known as the 4A's) and established regional offices throughout the United States in addition to the main New York office. The records of two predecessor organizations, the Grand Opera Artists Association and the Grand Opera Choral Alliance comprise the earliest material in the collection. The bulk of the collection consists of the papers of AGMA's New York office, including correspondence, bargaining files and agreements, arbitration files, internal structure, member correspondence, an early membership ledger, clippings, convention Proceedings, scrapbooks, and records of guest status fees paid by artists from abroad. There are also a number of files documenting AGMA's relations with other theatrical unions, and many failed attempts at mergers between members of the 4A's.

Historical/Biographical Note

The American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) was founded March 11, 1936 by a prominent group of solo musical artists including Lawrence Tibbett, Alma Gluck and Jascha Heifetz. Tibbett was to serve as AGMA's president and Heifetz and Gluck as vice-presidents. Among the founding members were Kirsten Flagstad, John McCormack, Andres Segovia, George Gershwin, Fred Waring and Paul Whiteman. The advisory board included Walter Damrosch, Lauritz Melchoir, Ezio Pinza, and Lily Pons, among others. By joining together, these pioneers hoped to eliminate unfair practices and abuses that were all too prevalent in their profession. Often artists would perform without being paid, or would play out of town and be stranded without transportation back home; rehearsal time was unpaid and there was no limitation on the number of performances an artist could be called upon to give each week. AGMA negotiations came to include pay, terms of employment and workplace conditions, as well as the efforts by the union to promote common aims and interests of the artists, and to foster the musical arts and musical culture in general.

In August 1937, AGMA became an affiliate of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America (known as the 4A's), a federation of AFL-CIO theatrical unions. At that time, the organization merged with an older union, the Grand Opera Artists Association, which previously had held the 4A's charter. In the spring of 1938, AGMA also incorporated the Grand Opera Choral Alliance, an organization that represented opera choristers and had already established a bargaining relationship with the Metropolitan Opera. Thus strengthened, AGMA signed its first collective bargaining agreement with the Metropolitan Opera in August 1938 and became the Met artists' sole bargaining agent.

During the 1940s, AGMA expanded its jurisdiction, negotiating contracts with numerous opera companies throughout the United States. Sick leave and social security benefits were among the goals of the organization, and the union established its own Relief Fund to assist aged and disabled members; the Fund was financed by the Theatre Authority, for many years a clearing house for theatrica benefit performances and other fund-raising. With solid gains having been made in larger opera companies, AGMA turned in the 1950s to the growing field of regional opera as well as to popular professional touring choral groups.

During the 1960s, AGMA was highly visible in lobbying efforts for federal support for the arts, an important feature of both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. To accommodate performers at the New York World's Fair a "guest status" category was developed and later offered to foreign touring companies like the Moiseyev Dance Company. In 1964 a landmark agreement was negotiated with the Metropolitan Opera guaranteeing 52 weeks for the entire shop. Union contracts were also designed for summer apprentice programs with companies like the Lake George Summer Festival, the Santa Fe Opera, the Chautauqua Institute, and the Central City Festival.

With ballet emerging as a popular entertainment form during the early 1960s, dancers in smaller touring and regional dance companies sought union protection. By the late 1960s the importance of dance to AGMA's jurisdiction was growing, as new dance companies (some representing innovative, non-traditional forms of dance) were being organized in many locales across the country. By the 1980s, ballet dancers comprised about 50 per cent of AGMA's membership and the ballet and dance fields have continued to expand steadily. In 1986 AGMA had 5,500 members, 3,000 of whom were based in New York City. There were ten area offices located throughout the United States, negotiating contracts and handling local problems within their regions. Although AGMA's jurisdiction did not extend to Canada, the association has maintained an office in Toronto to serve as a liaison with Canadian Equity.

Performing arts administration in both opera and dance has becoming increasingly corporate in its outlook and goals in recent years, with less professional theater experience represented in management. By 1990 there were fewer than ten opera companies in the United States that presented more than twelve productions a year; the rest staged from one to six productions.

Membership in AGMA is open to all interested parties, regardless of prior experience, affiliation or nationality. Many performers hold joint membership in other 4As-affiliated unions such as AFTRA, SAG, and Actors' Equity.


Series I and IV are arranged chronologically; series II and III are arranged alphabetically.

Organized into five series:

  1. I, Convention Proceedings (These files have been microfilmed.)
  2. II, General Files
  3. III, Guest Status Fees
  4. IV, Oversize Scrapbooks and Ledger
  5. V, Archived Websites

Scope and Content Note

Series I: Convention Proceedings, 1948-1962. This series is available on microfilm (R-7427, reels 46-49). Researchers must use microfilm.

Series II: General Files, 1918-1993, comprises the bulk of the collection. The vast majority of General Files contain material from the New York AGMA office, including bargaining files, arbitrations, member correspondence, and communications with regional offices, with managers, with venues and companies, and with other unions. They also contain background or research material on related organizations, events, and notable individuals. There is a small amount of Board of Governors meeting minutes, 1938-1944 (partially duplicating minutes available on microfilm; see note under Series I), as well as agendas for board meetings, 1947-1955. General correspondence is filed by year and includes incoming and outgoing letters; these files document the administrations of AGMA presidents Lawrence Tibbett, John Brownlee, George London, Cornell MacNeil and Gene Boucher, with a few files dating from a later period. The records of two predecessor organizations, the Grand Opera Choral Alliance and the Grand Opera Artists Association of America, are located alphabetically within the General Files and represent some of the earliest material in the collection.

Series III: Guest Status Fees, c.1965-1991 (mostly 1970s), contains standard paperwork required of foreign dance companies wishing to perform in AGMA's jurisdiction.

Series IV: Oversize Scrapbooks and Ledger, 1936-1951, consists of a scrapbook of publicity clippings, 1936 and 1950-1951; a ledger of cash receipts (dues), 1938-1940; and a scrapbook containing dues cards, c.1936-1940, filed alphabetically.

Series V: Archived Websites, consists the websites for the the AGMA retirement and health funds and the main AGMA website, dating back since 2007.

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Any rights (including copyright and related rights to publicity and privacy) held by the American Guild of Musical Artists were transferred to New York University in 2002 by the American Guild of Musical Artists and Linda Mays. Permission to publish or reproduce materials in this collection must be secured from Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives. Please contact, (212) 998-2630.

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date; American Guild of Musical Artists Records; WAG 209; box number; folder number; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.

To cite the archived website in this collection: Identification of item, date; American Guild of Musical Artists Records; WAG 209; Wayback URL; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.

Location of Materials

Materials are stored offsite and advance notice is required for use. Please request materials at least two business days prior to your research visit to coordinate access.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by the American Guild of Musical Artists, via an agreement with president Linda Mays, in 2002. The accession number associated with this gift is 2002.008. was initially selected by curators and captured through the use of The California Digital Library's Web Archiving Service in 2007 as part of the Labor Unions and Organizations (U.S.). In 2015, this website was migrated to Archive-It. Archive-It uses web crawling technology to capture websites at a scheduled time and displays only an archived copy, from the resulting WARC file, of the website. In 2019, was added. The accession number associated with this website is 2019.138. In 2020, was added. The accession number associated with this website is 2020.034.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Due to the fragile nature of the original materials, researchers must use the microfilmed version of Series I: Convention Records; microfilm call number is R-7427, reels 46-49.

In addition, a small amount of Board of Governors meeting minutes, 1938-1944, in Series II: General Files are also available on microfilm. Microfilm call number is R-7427, reels 1-46.

Take Down Policy

Archived websites are made accessible for purposes of education and research. NYU Libraries have given attribution to rights holders when possible; however, due to the nature of archival collections, we are not always able to identify this information.

If you hold the rights to materials in our archived websites that are unattributed, please let us know so that we may maintain accurate information about these materials.

If you are a rights holder and are concerned that you have found material on this website for which you have not granted permission (or is not covered by a copyright exception under US copyright laws), you may request the removal of the material from our site by submitting a notice, with the elements described below, to the

Please include the following in your notice: Identification of the material that you believe to be infringing and information sufficient to permit us to locate the material; your contact information, such as an address, telephone number, and email address; a statement that you are the owner, or authorized to act on behalf of the owner, of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed and that you have a good-faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law; a statement that the information in the notification is accurate and made under penalty of perjury; and your physical or electronic signature. Upon receiving a notice that includes the details listed above, we will remove the allegedly infringing material from public view while we assess the issues identified in your notice.

Separated Material

A few photographs and graphic items were separated to the Non-Print Department of the Tamiment Library.

Related Material at the Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Records of the American Guild of Variety Artists (WAG 095)

Records of Actors' Equity Association (WAG 011)

Records of Associated Actors and Artistes of America (WAG 110)

Collection processed by

Annie Grunow, 2007

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-20 16:35:23 -0400.
Language: Description is written in: English, Latin script.

Processing Information

In 2014, the archived websites were added as Series V. An additional websites were added in 2019 and 2020.

Revisions to this Guide

October 2020: edited by Nicole Greenhouse to reflect additional administrative information and added archived websites.

Edition of this Guide

This version was derived from AGMA.doc


Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012