In September, 1943 Syd Nathan of Cincinnati started King Records. In early 1956, King received a demo from a young Georgia singer named James Brown. The rest is history. Brown recorded "Please, Please, Please" and “Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" while with King. Other noted King artists included the Stanley Brothers, Hank Ballard, Wynonie Haris, and Grandpa Jones.
Sixty-five years later, a local group of enthusiasts and dreamers is jumpstarting King Records’ rebirth. On November 23 at 2:00 p.m., King Records will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with a ceremony at 1540 Brewster Avenue in Evanston. A reception will follow at 3:00 p.m. in the Schiff Conference Center of Xavier University’s Cintas Center. Come share your King Stories records and see the plans for King’s rebirth. An RSVP is needed by November 18 to Nancy Hackett at 513-745-3264.
The event is hosted by Xavier University; The Community Building Institute, a partnership between Xavier and the United Way of Greater Cincinnati; Flavor of Arts Studio; the Evanston Community Council; SHP Leading Design; Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation and Ultrasuede Studios.
“King Records is as important to Cincinnati as the Ohio River,” says music historian Larry Nager. King Records started as a country label. After World War II, Syd Nathan saw that the rhythm and blues market was getting no attention from established labels. King Records’ location in Cincinnati gave it access to country and black performers touring in the Midwest and the South.
Its Evanston site was a one-stop shop where everything was done - recording, making masters, pressing, designing and printing album covers, warehousing and shipping. Nathan pressed just a few records at a time and drove them to area radio stations. If they were a hit, he made more. This is why many King records are so rare.
Over the years community leaders, local politicians and music enthusiasts have discussed reviving King Records. Two panel discussions and an exhibit on King Records, organized by music librarian Brian Powers, were held this past summer at the Main Library downtown. The exhibit King Records: A Cincinnati Legacy included photographs, publicity shots, vinyl records, ad material, album art, lyrics, sheet music, scrapbooks, music CDs, business documents, and Syd Nathan's correspondence. Many of the items were donated by relatives of King artists, as well as the Nathan family. More recently, the Evanston site caught the interest of Anzora Adkins, president of the Evanston Community Council, and Liz Blume, Director of the Community Building Institute at Xavier. Talk started about making the site a museum. But the site is landlocked in a dead end.
The Montgomery Road business corridor near the original site, where the Flavor of Arts opened shop several months ago, has been determined a more feasible location. More than just a museum, the new facility will be a living entity.
The new site, based on renderings by SHP Leading Architects of Norwood, calls for a memorial space that can be used for community functions, a recording studio that will provide apprenticeship opportunities to neighborhood youth, and the Flavor of Arts Studio, which provides programming for nearby residents and will serve as a site for arts education training.