Filed Under Music

King Records

A place that crossed racial lines to revolutionize Rock and Roll music!

King Records’ business offices, recording studio and pressing plant

What was King Records?

King Records was an important record label owned by Syd Nathan that was active from 1943-1968. The King Records studio building is located in the Evanston neighborhood of Cincinnati, OH. King Records recorded in the genres of hillbilly/Appalachian folk, bluegrass, country, jazz, doo-wop, R&B, funk, and soul. It is also argued that the label produced some of the first rock n' roll music ever recorded. Some of King Records’ most notable recording artists and associated acts include James Brown, Lula Reed, Hank Ballard, Vicki Anderson, Bootsy Collins, Phillip Paul, and the Delmore Brothers. King Records was one of the first racially integrated businesses in Cincinnati in a time where segregation in the workplace was a common practice among Northern U.S. cities. The King Records building is currently owned by the City of Cincinnati, and plans are underway to transform the space into a community cultural space.

Racial Integration at King Records

King Records rose to prominence in Cincinnati at a time when, although there was no legal system of segregation, informal segregation and racially discriminatory hiring practices were common in Northern cities. By contrast, King Records is credited as the first racially integrated workplace in the city of Cincinnati— as early as the 1940s. Black people made up 20% of factory workers at the record press, and held integral creative, managerial, and directorial positions within the company.

Commenting on King’s racial integration in relation to its location in the North-South border city of Cincinnati, OH, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame historian Robert Santelli has said: 

“What happened at King couldn’t have happened in New York or Los Angeles. Cincinnati always had one foot in the North, and one in the South, with access to blacks of the industrial cities as well as the Appalachians.” (Fox).

King’s racially integrated work place had implications that went beyond being an issue of economic and social racial equality. Because King integrated musicians from different backgrounds—notably white Appalachian migrants and Black people migrating north as part of the Great Migration— the conditions were ripe for hybrid forms of music to emerge. A common practice of the King music executives was to produce cross-over music, wherein musicians of one style of music would perform a cover of a song originally written in another style. For example, R&B artists might have done an R&B rendition of a song that was originally written in the style of bluegrass. As a result of this, King Records produced what many argue was some of the earliest rock n’ roll music ever made, such as Wynonie Harris’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” released in 1954.

Women of King Records

While many of King Records’ best-remembered artists were men, there were also hundreds of women who composed and performed for the label and made integral contributions to King Record’s success as musicians, composers, and workers.

The King Records Studio Building

The King Records building served as King Records’ business offices, recording studio, and pressing plant. This vertically integrated mode of production made the production and distribution of records extremely efficient. Singles could be recorded, mixed and mastered, pressed, and sent out to radio stations extremely quickly, reaching the airwaves in a matter of days. By 1951, King could press one million records per month. The consolidated model of production and distribution also allowed King to quickly adapt to demand in the record store and disc jockeying markets, cutting down on extraneous costs and wasted time.

The King Records studio building was purchased by the City of Cincinnati in April 2018. Plans are currently underway to convert the space into a community cultural space and experiential learning center for the public.

More Information:
This building in Evanston served as King Records’ business offices, recording studio and pressing plant until 1971. The label was founded in 1943 by Jewish businessman Sid Nathan. King Records is credited as the first racially integrated workplace in Cincinnati. Black men and women made up 20% of the factory workers at the record press, and held integral creative, managerial and directorial positions within the company. Its vertically integrated mode of production made the creation and distribution of records extremely efficient. Singles could be recorded, mixed and mastered, pressed, and sent out to radio stations within a matter of days. King became the 6th largest record company in the US, capable of pressing one million records per month. Nearly 500 of its singles made the R&B, country and pop charts, with 32 number one singles. Syd Nathan was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. In 2008, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame placed a historic marker in front of this building. The City of Cincinnati purchased it 10 years later to save it from demolition.

Location

1540 Brewster Ave. | Private Property

Metadata

Maya Drozdz and Andrea Gutmann Fuentes, “King Records,” Cincinnati Sites and Stories, accessed November 30, 2022, https://stories.cincinnatipreservation.org/items/show/17.