The Crump family came from Oklahoma and settled in Amber Valley in 1910. Their son Melvin was born in 1916. Ten years later, Melvin's mother died and his father and oldest brothers then left the family. Soon after, Melvin’s older sister died. With most of his immediate family gone, Melvin went to live with his grandmother, aunt, and three cousins.
When Melvin was in Grade 8, he quit school to help support his family. He started working in Edmonton, shining shoes and killing chickens; he also farmed on the family’s Amber Valley homestead. As a youth, Melvin was a member of the Amber Valley Baseball Team. His love for sports continued throughout his life; he played softball while living in Edmonton, and when he moved to Calgary, he joined another softball team.
Melvin Crump is known best for his musical talent. He grew up loving jazz and following in the footsteps of his musician cousins, Eddie and Lesley Bailey, sons of Robert and Mary Bailey. He started playing the saxophone under the direction of Edmonton jazz artist, Ollie Wagner. Melvin was a small child; his father concluded that the saxophone was too big for him and took it away. However, Melvin’s ambitions of being a jazz artist were reignited as he watched jazz drummer Gene Krupa. This led to the start of Melvin’s career as a renowned jazz drummer.
While living in Edmonton, he played for one of the most popular local jazz bands of the 1930s, The Knights of Harlem. While working as a porter for the Canadian Pacific Railway, he also played in clubs across Canada. During the Second World War, he put his musical career on hold and enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He had intended to be a pilot, but because of his colour, he was not allowed. Instead, he was put on the construction crew of a hangar at an airbase in Penhold.
After the Second World War, Crump moved to Calgary and drummed for the Kashmir’s Jazz Jam Trio and the Bert Proctor Swingsters. He often played at the Utopia Club, a meeting place for Calgary’s Black community. Unfortunately, as a Black musician, he was subject to the random segregationist policies of public businesses. Black musicians usually did not get higher-end gigs. When Ralph and Colleen Klein invited Melvin and the Bert Proctor Swingsters to play at their wedding reception at Calgary's Palliser Hotel, the musicians were initially denied entry by the staff, but Klein intervened.
Melvin Crump wanted to be respected and to end racism in Canada. Starting in 1936, he worked as a porter for 24 years and suffered under poor working conditions and under the abuse of racist White passengers. Therefore, when the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) union was organized in Calgary in the early 1940s, Melvin immediately signed up. The BSCP soon set up the advocacy group, the Alberta Association for the Advancement of Colored People (AAACP), which Melvin led during the 1950s. As AAACP president, he fought racial stereotyping and prejudice against the Black community. Having forgone the drugs and womanizing common to many other jazz musicians of his time, Melvin is seen as a role model for his community.
For his activism and his contributions to the musical life of Alberta, Melvin Crump has been included in Calgary’s Glenbow Museum exhibit, Mavericks: An Incorrigible History of Alberta. Melvin has a special relationship with the museum, having worked there from 1960 to 1981—first as a chauffeur for the museum’s founder, Eric Harvie, then as the museum’s courier.
Melvin is retired and living in Calgary.
More information on Melvin Crump is available through the Glenbow Museum's Web site, Mavericks: An Incorrigible History of Alberta. Simply follow the link to Post Haste which appears at the bottom right-hand corner of the Web site's graphical interface, then follow the link from the photo of Melvin Crump (in the bottom row). Please note that you will require Flash Player to view the Mavericks: An Incorrigible History of Alberta Web site.