Colored Musicians Club awarded $450K for new addition

Apr 7, 2017

One of the area's more prominent cultural tourism attractions is now going to be available to more people.

For a century, African-American musicians have been an integral part of Western New York's cultural scene. For many years, they had their own musicians union local because they were not allowed in the white union local.

Eighty-two years ago that morphed into the Colored Musicians Club, a second floor on Broadway in downtown Buffalo. Musicians of all races and musical traditions trudged up the 20 steps and played until dawn.

Credit Colored Musicians Club

Thursday, the city Preservation Board approved a $450,000 plan for a new sprinkler system and building addition to house an elevator. Independent Living Center Advocacy and Public Policy Director Todd Vaarwerk, who is wheel-bound, said it is the right decision.

"It is absolutely a community treasure which is why we want to make sure it's accessible and it reaches everybody in the 21st Century," said Vaarwerk. "So I'm glad that the Preservation Board is able to act quickly and decisively to make sure that access for people with disabilities doesn't conflict with their mission in historic preservation."

Club President George Scott said the $450,000 is in hand and he is ready for construction to start this summer. Scott acknowledged that access has been a problem.

"People like the gentleman you just talked to earlier in the wheelchair, there's a lot of people that would love to be up there, but those 20 steps, that's tough," Scott said. "We just have that one chairlift and that's tough because it's slow and it can only do one at a time. Now we can bring up many, many people with handicaps that can now come up and enjoy the live music upstairs."

He said musicians carrying heavy and bulky musical equipment upstairs also will benefit.

"We have guys with those big, big standup basses and they have to carry that up the stairs or they play the big baritone sax, things like that," he said. "It's tough on those old guys, young guys, too. Even the guys with the amps and that guitars and bass players with the amps, it's a tough, tough thing.)

The club celebrates its 100th anniversary party on April 15 in the nearby and also historic Hotel Lafayette.