Most descriptions of Cincinnati’s King Records history include stories of owner Sydney Nathan or artists like James Brown and Bootsy Collins, but the genius of Henry Bernard Glover (1921-1991) was the true catalyst for the groundbreaking success of America’s most revolutionary independent record label. Glover was one of the most influential recording executives of the 20th century and as one of the first record producers/writers in the U.S. was an agent of change for African Americans in the field.
Artists and Repertoire Director (A&R) during King’s golden era between 1947 to 1959, Glover sought out, nurtured, and recorded musicians representing the gamut of popular American musical styles, including country, rockabilly, rhythm and blues (R&B), and funk. As an African American he brought the sound of Black America to a worldwide audience, obfuscated by racism. He was one of the first producers to bring Black and white musicians together in a recording studio. An ingenious songwriter, arranger, composer, and producer, Glover launched the careers of hundreds of musicians and helped create the sound of rock ‘n’ roll in the mid-1950s. Musicians preferred his calm, patient, and friendly presence, over Syd Nathan’s notorious outbursts and temper. As a professional musician, he often used solfege to direct rehearsals and recording sessions, especially helpful for those who could not read music. With his great ears and technical skill, he improved the audio engineering equipment and studio design at King. An arranger and lyricist, Glover (occasionally under the pseudonym Henry Bernard) had thirty-nine of his songs top the Billboard R&B charts. Glover navigated segregation and overt and covert racism in the recording business to develop a uniquely American musical sound ¬– smashing racial barriers.
Growing up in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Glover had a comprehensive music education beginning in high school, singing classical works in the school choir, playing cornet, and songwriting. Awarded a music scholarship, he received a Bachelor of Science in education, with extensive coursework in music composition and arranging from Alabama Agricultural & Mechanical University in 1943. He held first chair trumpet in the A&M orchestra and fronted and arranged for the A&M Collegians dance band. He began a master’s degree in political science at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, but was lured away by Buddy Johnson and His Orchestra as the band’s arranger and trumpeter. In 1945, Glover joined Lucky Millinder’s Orchestra, where he met Syd Nathan while making a record with King artist, saxophonist Bull Moose Jackson. The recording of “The Honeydripper” was the first of many collaborations with Millinder, Jackson, and Nathan. Glover’s arrangement of “I Love You, Yes I Do” with lyrics by Sally Nix, Millinder’s wife, became the first big R&B hit for Jackson in 1947, won Record of the Year, and Glover’s first BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) Achievement Award. The following year Nathan hired Glover as the A&R Director for King, making him the second Black recording executive in the U.S. (The first J. Mayo Williams, hired by Decca Records in 1934). Glover would also become the first African American recording executive in country music.
Glover moved to Cincinnati in 1948, living in Avondale, five minutes from King Record studio on Brewster Avenue in Evanston. Glover recalled, in a 1990 interview with John W. Rumble, he was happiest when he briefly lived in a suite at the Manse Hotel in Walnut Hills. Appointed Executive Vice-President in 1950, Glover relocated to establish a King Records office and recording studio in New York City. He continued to produce recordings there and at other affiliated studios across the country while maintaining his position in A&R. He returned to Cincinnati frequently to work with Nathan; they had a solid partnership – Nathan considered Glover his right-hand man. Glover and Nathan created their own music publishing company, Jay & Cee, which produced over a hundred songs in nearly every genre. Glover owned 50% rights and received royalties for music he made at King Records.
Glover was known as a musical star-maker in country, bluegrass, and R&B and was the creative force behind King’s famous blend of country and R&B sounds known as rockabilly today. Notably, his song “Boarding House Blues” written in a traditional blues style but re-arranged for country music duo the Delmore Brothers as “Blues Stay Away from Me” with an iconic tenor guitar riff, was imitated for decades to come. Covered by the Owen Bradley Quintet, it became a jukebox hit in 1950. Glover arranged numerous R&B songs for the country singer and pianist Moon Mullican, including “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone” and “Well Oh Well” in the 1950s, paving the way for rock ‘n’ roll.
Glover worked with seminal popular music artists of the 1950s. He signed fellow Arkansas native William Edward “Little Willie” John to King in 1955, recording nearly all his work, including “Fever” in 1956, which immediately soared to the top of the Billboard R&B Best Sellers. “Fever” has been covered by dozens of singers, including Elvis Presley, Madonna, Michael Bublé, and Beyoncé, and reached its pinnacle as the signature song of Peggy Lee, selling over one million copies in the U.S. alone. “Fever” was nominated for Record and Song of the Year at the first Grammy Awards in 1959. Glover’s “I’ll Drown in My Tears”, first sung by Lula Reed for King Records in 1951, became Ray Charles's first big hit on Atlantic Records in 1956. That same year, James Brown signed with King subsidiary Federal Records and likely worked with Glover on his early recordings in Cincinnati and in NYC supervised the session recording the best-selling #1 R&B hit single “Try Me”. Brown would record several of Glover’s songs, including “Teardrops on Your Letter”.
Glover parted ways with Nathan and King Records in 1959. After Nathan’s death in 1968, King merged with Starday Records. Glover rejoined Starday-King and managed the New York office of Lin Broadcasting’s music division, after Lin purchased Starday. During the 60s and 70s Glover continued in A&R, producing music for Roulette Records and subsidiary, Glover Records – where he created the first recordings of Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson and launched the careers of rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins and his band, The Hawks, with drummer Levon Helm and lead guitarist Robbie Robertson. Helm and Robertson would later achieve great success in The Band. Helm considered Glover his mentor, seeking his council throughout his career; they co-founded RCO Productions and produced the Grammy-winning album “Muddy Waters at Woodstock” in 1975. The Band’s final concert in 1976 included arrangements by Henry Glover with legends Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young performing, immortalized in Martin Scorsese’s iconic documentary, The Last Waltz.
Glover’s supreme artistry as a songwriter and producer was the gold in the King Records crown, setting the multifaceted gems of 20th-century popular musical style in splendor. Over his 50-year career, Glover wrote and produced over 1,000 songs working with hundreds of stars, including Kings artists: Tiny Bradshaw, Wynonie Harris, LaVern Baker, Marion Abernathy, The Checkers, The Swallows, The York Brothers, Otis Williams and the Charms, Earl Bostic, Cowboy Copas, Grandpa Jones, Hank Ballard & the Midnighters, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Bill Doggett, Bonnie Lou, and John Lee Hooker. Glover’s songs, like “Peppermint Twist” (Joey Dee and the Starliters), “I Can’t Go on Without You” (Ella Fitzgerald), “Let the Little Girl Dance” (Billy Bland), “Heart and Soul” (The Cleftones), “California Sun” (Joe Jones), “Who Do You Love” (Ronnie Hawkins), “Blues So Bad” and “Rain Down Tears” (Levon Helm & the RCO All-Stars) have become American classics.
Henry Glover is celebrated as a National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) Honor Roll A&R Producer and has a Star on the Arkansas Walk of Fame. Glover was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame (2013) and received a King Records Lifetime Achievement Award (2018). Perhaps Glover’s greatest achievement was creating a space for the unique voices within the panoply of American music. Journalist and music historian Stephen Koch said of Glover, “he was like Quincy Jones — the consummate artist-producer. He helped artists find their voice and gave them the artistic freedom to be who they were. He could hear the potential in that person and say – 'I'm going to make that happen.'