Pioneering hillbilly/soul label King Records celebrated

My birthplace of Cincinnati, Ohio has a rich musical history centered around King Records, a tremendously influential record label founded in 1943 by Syd Nathan. King Records began as a hillbilly music label and eventually took a soulful turn into "race records." James Brown's career was launched at King. Other artists on the roster included Ralph Stanley, Hank Ballard, The Platters, the Dominoes, Memphis Slim, John Lee Hooker, and The Stanley Brothers. Almost forty years after King shut, the city is finally recognizing the label with, well, a plaque at the abandoned warehouse where the record plant once operated. Eventually though, a local group hopes to build a King Records Center complete with a working recording studio. My old friend John Curley, former Afghan Whigs bassist and music producer, has signed on to run the studio. Let's hope they can raise the dough to make it happen! The city's alt.weekly, CityBeat, has a feature on the label and the efforts to celebrate its importance. From Cincinnati CityBeat:
 Cincinnati Imgs Hed Art16602Widea What we'd want to do with the recording studio is provide opportunities for internships and workshops and do more community outreach to get kids interested in learning about recording, performance and all aspects of the music business," Curley says...

Nathan died in 1968 and the label was sold, moving out of town as many studio musicians faded into clubs and other cities. A couple generations thus grew up with little local awareness of the studio.

Actually, the mainstream (white) media didn't do much at the time to tout the studio's work. Little attention was paid in the local media to King's artistry, especially the R&B acts....

While Nathan was catering to niche audiences, he created a musical stew rarely replicated in the recording world. Black and white session players worked together in what was likely the only truly integrated business in Cincinnati of the '50s. They often recorded a song with a Country artist, then did it again for the R&B market.

As (Cincinnatian) Bootsy Collins remembers, "He never had a neon sign out front. If you didn't know it was King Records, you wouldn't know it. He just wanted to get the music done and get it out. He wasn't trying to be a star. He was like the man behind the camera. He just wanted to make the movie and make it happen.
King Records celebrated in Cincinnati



  1. I suddenly feel the need to drive six hours to indulge my girlfriend’s desire to see the Cleveland zoo, with a little side trip.

  2. Patrick Anderson: The Cincinnati Zoo is far superior to the Cleveland Zoo, just as an FYI.

    And thanks for posting this David. I learn more about our beautiful city everyday and it’s always a pleasure to hear new things from fellow Queen City appreciators.

  3. The community outreach component of the King Studio revival sounds very exciting. Recording music was the number one aspiration in the world for so many of the at-risk kids I worked with. For some of them to get a chance to learn about recording equipment would be outstanding. There are kids like that everywhere. Good luck.

    P.S. If King Studios put out some compilation CDs of recordings for a fundraiser, I think they would do really well.

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