My Thanks to Ray, For A Lifetime of Service

August 14, 2023

Many things came out of the 102nd AFM Convention in June. I encourage you to check out Secretary-Treasurer Pino’s report on the convention, also published in today’s issue of the DFW Musician. I congratulate the federation’s newly elected officers led by our new International President Tino Gagliardi, and am excited about moving forward with this new administration. But perhaps what hits home for us here in Local 72-147 the most is the retirement of our own Ray Hair as International President.

For those of you who have not met Ray, before his 13 years as International President of the AFM, he had served for 28 years as President of our local. Before he was on the front lines in the effort to save our Pension Fund, and before he brought the Music Performance Trust Fund (MPTF) back from near death, and before he was renegotiating all federation agreements while placing resources into organizing and education, and before his administration pulled the Federation back from the brink of financial collapse and into an era of financial strength, he was OUR fearless leader here in Dallas/Fort Worth.

During the 28 years of Ray’s Local 72-147 presidency, the separate Dallas and Fort Worth locals were merged into one strong local. New CBAs were organized and bargained, the MPTF was used to build membership and community presence, and iconic artistic institutions (Denton Arts and Jazz Festival) were built from the ground up. Moreover, a new public profile to unionism was brought to our area, certainly one of the most difficult environments for labor anywhere.

My journey with Ray Hair began over thirty years ago. I had joined the local as a college student, and knowing very little about the business, was trying to start a career in music. One day I got a ridiculous contract offer from a small orchestra that included the proviso that I work exclusively for that group. As naive as I was, I still knew that wasn’t acceptable. But before I could respond to the offer, I heard from the local: Do not respond to that offer, the union is negotiating with the employer! It wasn’t long after that when I found myself serving on an Orchestra Committee for this group which had a newly established collective bargaining agreement.

As Ray was working to organize small orchestras like this, I was pulled into the process and experienced a very special thing: professional musical jobs came into being (where there had been none before) and with that a brand new wage standard was established across the area. I saw minimum wage scales take place where no standard had previously existed, and I saw the quality and reputations of these jobs increase exponentially. I and other union musicians had new ways to make our livings, establish our reputations, and be PROFESSIONAL musicians. Before long I was serving on other orchestra committees, and ended up in negotiations with Ray leading at the table, always working to get the best deals we could.

In the early days of my music career Ray taught me by example that through such action, WE can be proactive to make change, and make the world better around us. He taught me that we can have a voice in our workplaces, and as he stated in his last column for the International Musician, “It’s about what we can do together.”

From these beginnings I continued to be active with the local, and eventually ran for a place on our local’s Executive Board, where the education just kept on going. When Ray ran for and was elected as International President of the AFM, our local executive board members were ecstatic to see him taking on this job, but we knew we had large and difficult shoes to fill as he moved on from his position here.

Funny thing is, after all these years Ray never did really leave us. He has maintained his home in Denton and has continued to be involved in managing the Denton Arts and Jazz Festival through the years. During the Pandemic he spent more time than ever in Denton as he was forced to work from home, and he took a special interest in finding a way to use MPTF funding to create safe gigs in the Pandemic. And in doing so we built a little oasis. We ended up doing weekly MPTF streamed performances in Denton, Fort Worth and Dallas, and Ray became personally involved in setting up the Denton shows.

I came to look forward to my weekly drives to Denton as we produced two shows a week at Steve’s Wine Bar. Gig after gig, I would hear our members tell me that this was the first time they had played together in months. In a period of famine, these were feasts. Our musicians were coming together playing gigs they wanted to play, and playing the music they loved. And being a part of this, Ray was in heaven.

Even after 30 years of knowing him, it was during this project that I came to understand new things about Ray, watching him soak up the music making of his musicians in his beloved Denton. He could not have been more at home putting together work for his people at this time. One night I was sitting at one of the tables in Steve’s Wine Bar with my laptop in front of me as we were producing a live streamed performance together. Working on grant applications, and covered in payroll sheets, I looked up at Ray across the table – probably telling a story – and I realized how much fun I was having.

“It’s really fun to be working with you again like this,” I said to him. “It feels like the old days, when we were working together in the trenches.” He stopped and looked back at me. And after a pause – and with some emotion – he said, “I really appreciate you saying that, I really do.”

Well, it is now time for me to express my appreciation to you, Ray. I can honestly say I would not be here without all the work you have done over the past 40+ years. Your work ethic, dedication, fearlessness, intelligence – and spit and vinegar – have built and defended our Union, setting a standard that we dare not forget.

On Sunday, September 3 – Labor Day Weekend – Local 72-147 will be having a picnic to celebrate labor at Klyde Warren Park in Downtown Dallas. There will also be free community performances of Union Bands – sponsored by MPTF – at the park celebrating the holiday. Ray will be our guest of honor at the picnic as we celebrate his 41 years of labor leadership and advocacy for musicians.

Please come out and celebrate Labor Day Weekend with us. For more information and to RSVP, click HERE.