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The African American Experience 

Grand Central Red Caps, winners, 7th Annual Barbershop Quarter Contest


Description:Courtesy of New York City Parks Photo Archive, Neg. 20426. The International Brotherhood of Red Caps, a largely black union of railway service workers was founded in 1937, following the unionization of Pullman Porters, the first predominantly…more.

Grand Central Red Caps, winners, 7th Annual Barbershop Quarter Contest

Courtesy of New York City Parks Photo Archive, Neg. 20426. The International Brotherhood of Red Caps, a largely black union of railway service workers was founded in 1937, following the unionization of Pullman Porters, the first predominantly African American union led by A. Phillip Randolph's efforts beginning in 1925. At the contest whose winners are shown here, eighteen teams of balladeers competed in the traditional a cappella musical form of barbershop quartet singing--a favorite of Commissioner Robert Moses--and this contingent of Grand Central Red Caps, with a repertoire of spirituals, won before a jubilant crowd of 15,000 people, upsetting several favored perennial teams. The competitors in this event were said to be "drawn from every walk of life embracing commercial, industrial, social and civic organizations." Among the jurors were Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, former governor Alfred E. Smith, and orchestra leader Fred Waring. The win qualified the black quartet of railway workers (Robert, Owen and Jack Ward, William Bostic) as the representative of New York City at the national competition held the following week in St. Louis, but they were denied their rightful place by organizers who in justifying their actions commented "that to keep down any embarrassment we ought not to permit colored people to participate." In protest, Moses and Smith resigned their membership as vice presidents of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America.

Location: Central Park, Manhattan
Date: June 26, 1941

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