April 2009

Spotlight On…   King Records

King record label King record label
King record label King record label
Cover of Live at the Garden (1967) Cover of Live at the Garden (1967)
Cover of The Country Gentleman of Song (1963) Cover of The Country Gentleman of Song (1963)
Cover of It’s a Mother (1969) Cover of It’s a Mother (1969)
Cover of King All Stars (1991) Cover of King All Stars (1991)

Did you know that “The Twist” was first recorded in Cincinnati? That Syd Nathan named King Records sister R&B label, Queen, after the “Queen City?” And that James Brown started his career in Cincinnati with King Records?

King Records history of achievements, contribution to popular culture, the music industry, and the city of Cincinnati are legendary. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's historical marker honors the company that was for Cincinnati “the King of them all.”

History of King Records

King Records changed the world, paving the way for rock and roll and helping shape country music, bluegrass, soul, funk, and electric blues.—Larry Nager, The King is Dead, Long Live the King, Cincinnati Magazine

Founded by Syd Nathan, King Records was one of the most influential independent labels of the 1940s and 1950s. By the end of the latter decade, it had become the nation's sixth largest record company, with more than 400 employees. Nathan's policy of employing whites and African Americans side-by-side in various capacities made King Records one of the first integrated industries in Cincinnati, and, perhaps, the first integrated record company in the country. This diversity was reflected in its marketing. King Records was unique among independent record companies in that it recorded and sold both country and R&B music, filling two different niche markets neglected by the major record companies.

Related Resources

  • The Cincinnati Sound. The book is filled with photographs that document Cincinnati’s glory days as “one of America’s top music capitals.”
  • “The King is Dead, Long Live the King.” This article, by Larry Nager, appeared in the March 2008 issue of Cincinnati Magazine.
  • King Records: A Cincinnati Legacy. This four-part series produced and broadcast by WVXU, includes interviews with former King musicians, music historians, and music fans. And of course, plenty of music!
  • The King Records Story. Darren Blase, a local music authority and owner of Shake It Records, chronicles the history and contributions of King Records.
  • “Rocking Cincinnati’s R&B Cradle.” RJ Smith, New York Times 1/23/09, recaps King Records influence in music history.
  • Syd Nathan. A brief biography of Nathan’s life from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Nathan was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997.
  • A King Records Timeline. Compiled by Brian F.X. Powers.
  • The King Label: A Discography. A two-volume chronology of all King Records sessions.
  • “Walking with James Brown Where it All Began.” Cincinnati Post 12/28/06 1B
  • “Soul Music Industry Thrived in Cincinnati in the 1960s and 1970s.” Cincinnati Herald 12/24/05 L1
  • “100 Who Made A Difference: Syd Nathan: He Was Rock Music’s Unlikely Legend.” Cincinnati Post 2/24/99 1c
  • “Record Firm Here Smashes Jim Crow; Workers Positions, Pay Keyed To Ability” Cincinnati Post 3/21/49 6:3
  • “Company Is Formed To Make Recordings; Located In Evanston” Cincinnati Enquirer 11/12/44 37:2

King Records Artists

During its relatively short lifespan, King Records produced many great artists and was responsible for over 461 hits on the rock, pop, R&B and country charts. Those musical luminaries include:

In A King Records Scrapbook, Brian F.X. Powers, one of our reference librarians, profiles many of the individuals who contributed to the success of King Records. The Library has many recordings by King musicians in our collection. Here's a selected list of some of those recordings. For more information about King recordings in our collection, contact the Popular Library for details.

King Records Today

Recently, there has been a resurgence of interest in King Records. On August 3, 2008, an enthusiastic crowd turned out for a concert at the Main Library that saluted the achievements of the King musicians. As part of the festivities, the keys to the city were given to Bonnie Lou, Cowboy Copas, Edwyn Conley, Syd Nathan, Philip Paul and Otis Williams.

On November 23, 2008, a historical marker at the former King Records site, 1540 Brewster Ave. in Evanston, was installed commemorating King Records. The plaque reads:

From 1943-1971 King Records forever changed American music. Owner Syd Nathan gave the world bluegrass, R&B, rock and roll, doo-wop, country, soul and funk. With stars from James Brown to the Stanley Brothers and its innovative integrated business model, Cincinnati's King Records revolutionized the music industry.

The King legacy continues to grow as a new generation of fans discover Cincinnati's unique musical heritage.

Related Resources

  • King Records summer concert : Walnut Street Plaza, Main Library, Sunday, August 3, [2008] 1:00 p.m. A two-disc DVD of the King Records 65th commemorative concert presented by the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County and 89.7 FM WNKU.
  • King Records : a Cincinnati legacy. A two-disc DVD containing the early years of country and bluegrass and the later years of R&B and the blues. Includes the May 10, 2008 panel discussions hosted by the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County honoring the 65th anniversary of King Records.
  • “King Records Remembered.” This article, by Cliff Radel, at Cincinnati.com 3/24/08, has a photo of the historic marker unveiled at the former King Records site in Evanston.
  • “King Records Now a Hit.” Cincinnati Herald 11/29/08 B1
  • “Soul Music Era Greats Gather in Evanston for King Records Hall of Fame Induction.” Cincinnati Herald 11/29/08 A1