The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County
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July 2008

What’s New · King Records Anniversary Concert and Exhibit

Publicity shot of Cowboy Copas Publicity shot of Cowboy Copas
Delmore Brothers advertisement Delmore Brothers advertisement
Record plant worker Record plant worker
Publicity shot of James Brown Publicity shot of James Brown
King record label King record label
Cover of King All Stars (1991) Cover of King All Stars (1991)
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)
King Recording Studio rate schedule King Recording Studio rate schedule
King record label King record label
Syd Nathan (on drums) Syd Nathan (on drums)
The Stanley Brothers The Stanley Brothers
The Shipping Department The Shipping Department
The Art Department The Art Department
King advertisement King advertisement

In recognition of the history and achievements of King Records , whose contribution to popular culture, the music industry, and the city of Cincinnati are legendary, a special exhibit of King Records material will be held at Main Library this summer. In addition, a concert will take place saluting the work of artists and musicians who contributed to King Records’ rich heritage. Join us for these exciting events!

The Exhibit

King Records: A Cincinnati Legacy will include photographs, publicity shots, vinyl records, advertising material, album art, lyrics, sheet music, scrapbooks, business documents, and Syd Nathan's correspondence. Many of the items were donated by relatives of King artists, such as Cowboy Copas, The Delmore Brothers, Bonnie Lou, and Little Willie John. The Nathan family also contributed unique items, such as Syd’s monogrammed cufflinks and his cigar humidor. Visitors will have an opportunity to listen to music produced by King Records and compare the original recordings with cover versions recorded by Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Madonna, George Jones, Aerosmith, Ray Charles, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Rosemary Clooney, etc. Video clips of musical performances by King artists Cowboy Copas, Bonnie Lou, Freddy King, and recordings of the early cross pollination between Country and R&B by Moon Mullican, Bull Moose Jackson, and James Brown will also be available. This exhibit will be on view in the Cincinnati Room (3rd floor) of the Main Library from July 9 through September 4.

The Concert

In tandem with the Cincy Blues Festival, the Library will also host a free summer concert saluting King Records on Sunday Aug 3rd, at 1:00 p.m. on the Main Library’s Walnut Street Plaza. WNKU’s Mr.Rhythm Man will be the show’s guest DJ and host. The concert will honor Country and R&B classics recorded at King, including: “Blues Stay Away From Me,” “Signed, Sealed and Delivered,” “Sixty Minute Man,” “Train Kept a Rollin,” “Fever,” “The Twist,” “Cold Sweat,” “Hearts of Stone,” and “Hideaway.” Performing will be the Syd Natanists, a group that consists of Marvin Hawkins of the R&B/ Soul outfit Marvin & The Experience, Joel Cotton of uplift i and Big Whiskey, Elliot Ruther of the Punk/Rock/Folk band the Elliot Ruther Trio, and a very special guest who knew Syd Nathan. Jake Speed and the Freddies, a four-piece American folk, country blues, and ragtime band, will also be special guests. Concert made possible by the Friends of the Public Library.

About 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.

More info

  • A King Records Scrapbook. Brian F.X. Powers, a reference librarian at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, writes about many of the individuals who contributed to the success of King Records.
  • 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!
  • WNKU. Tune into 89.7 FM every Saturday night from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. for a King Records Spotlight when “You’re On the Air with Mr. Rhythm Man!”
  • The King Records Story. Darren Blase, a local music authority and owner of Shake It Records, chronicles the history and contributions of King Records.
  • 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.

Newspaper Articles

  • “100 Who Made A Difference: Syd Nathan: He Was Rock Music’s Unlikely Legend.” Cincinnati Post 2/24/99 1c
  • “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
  • “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