King of the Hill: A 70th anniversary video retrospective of Cincinnati's King Records

A video look back at Cincy's King Records

CINCINNATI - James Brown was the jewel in the crown, but the throne of Cincinnati’s King Records always belonged to its irascible founder, Syd Nathan.

This is the 70th anniversary of the legendary record label and studio. It closed shop nearly 40 years ago, in a now long-neglected warehouse on the neighborhood border of Evanston and Walnut Hills, but its impact still reverberates across today's music.

King Records was home to what was then called hillbilly music—the generational precursor to country music—while, at the same time, helping expose the nation to James Brown and some of the earliest R&B artists.

Insiders have launched a month of activities and events celebrating the anniversary, from performances to a reading of a play based on King Records. Here's a rundown of what's happening:

  • Friday, Aug. 30 — The launch of King Records Month happens in Evanston, the neighborhood headquarters for King Records and the future site for King Studios, an experiential learning partnership between the Evanston community and Xavier University. A free reception at Evanston Recreation Center runs 4 to 7 p.m.
  • Friday, Aug. 30 — Royal Plastics: King Records Album Art. Exhibition opening reception at MOTR Pub in Over-The- Rhine runs from 6 to 8 p.m. This exhibit features vintage King Records album covers along with “reshots” by local photographers John Curley and Michael Wilson. This homage to King’s album cover art features 15 local Cincinnati musicians including Bobby Mackey, Buggs Tha Rocka, Jake Speed, and legendary King drummer, Philip Paul. The exhibition is up at MOTR through Sept. 26.
  • Saturday, Aug. 31 — The Playhouse in the Park, in Mount Adams, hosts a free reading of "Cincinnati King," a new play by Playhouse artists in residence K.J. Sanchez about Cincinnati music pioneer Syd Nathan and King Records. The reading starts at 7 p.m. in the Thompson Shelterhouse. More information here: www.amrec.us/current-projects/
  • Sunday, Sept. 1 — Starting on first of the month, two Cincinnati record stores—Everybody’s Records in Pleasant Ridge and Shake It Records in Northside—are offering month-long specials on King music.
  • Saturday, Sept. 7 — Susan Whitall, author of the book "Little Willie John: a Fast Life, Mysterious Death and the Birth of Soul," will speak about this King artist at the Main Branch of Cincinnati Public Library, at 3:30 p.m. in third-floor Genealogy & Local History program space.
  • Saturday, Sept. 7 —  WVXU FM 91.7 will rebroadcast the first episode of its 2007, four-part award-winning series on King Records, at 11 p.m. The series features music and interviews with music historians and King alumni. The other three parts will air at 11 p.m. the following three Saturdays—Sept. 14, 21 and 28.
  • Sunday, Sept. 8 — From 7 to 8 p.m., radio show "Music from the Hills of Home" on WNKU  89.7 FM will feature an hour of bluegrass recorded at King Studios.
  • Wednesday, Sept. 11 — Main Branch of Cincinnati Public Library Music series, "Listen to This," will feature the  album "James Brown Live at the Apollo," originally released on King in 1963. The program starts at 7 p.m. in the Popular Library Lounge on the first floor.
  • Saturday, Sept. 14 — RJ Smith,  author of "The One: The Life and Music of James Brown," gives a presentation on Brown at the Main Branch of Cincinnati Public Library, at 3:30 pm in Genealogy and Local History program space on the third floor.
  • Sunday, Sept. 15 — King Studios’ Educational Program Benefit Concert, 6 to 11 p.m. at MOTR Pub. All donations will go to the King Studios Traveling Suitcase, an educational toolkit that will use replica artifacts, music technology and lesson plans based on Ohio’s common core standards to tell the King Records story. Featured performers will be Ricky Nye, Cheryl Renee, Magnolia Mountain and The Sundresses.
  • Friday and Saturday, Sept. 20-21 — Barrence Whitfield & the Savages pay tribute to King records by performing a selection of King tunes and talk about how King influenced their sound. DJ Bryan Dilisizian will play King Records 45’s before, between and after sets. Begins at 9 p.m. at MOTR Pub.
  • Sunday, Sept. 22 — At the Comet Bar in Northside, the Comet Bluegrass All Stars perform a tribute to King’s Bluegrass artists, beginning at 7 p.m. Disc Jockey Brian Hellmann will spin King Records songs on this day from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., during the Comet’s Sunday brunch. The Comet Bar will also load up its jukebox for the day with King Records music.
  • Wednesday, Sept. 25 — Main Branch of Cincinnati Public Library music series, "Listen to This," features the 1958 album "This is Otis Williams and the Charms," in honor of the 60th anniverary of Williams’ first recordings done at King Records.
  • Saturday, Sept. 28 — Following the Reds game, Otis Williams and Charms perform a free concert at 8pm at the event stage at Smale Park, across from the Reds ballpark and next to the Moerlein Lager House at the Banks.
  • Sunday, Sept. 29 — Shake It Records in Northside shares a selection of King items collected there over the years: promotional photos, unreleased acetates, press materials, fanclub items, postcards, inter-office memos, newspaper clippings, court documents, bio labels, a King Phonograph Player and more. The items will be on display through November.
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