The shell of the King Records complex in Evanston has been vacant for years, sadly without much national public recognition of how the label, artists and producers shaped both the music of the day and the future of rock and roll. roll, soul and more.
Fortunately, that could change. The King Records Legacy Foundation was launched in 2021 as a collaboration between Cincinnati city officials, the Evanston neighborhood and former King Records recording artists Otis Williams, Philip Paul, Bootsy Collins and others . Williams’ son, Kent Butts, is the executive director of the foundation which tries to preserve the studio’s history.
He says CityBeat that all musical roads lead back to King Records – a major reason for securing the studio’s place in local and national history.
“Pick an artist – any artist. Pretty much I can bring it back to King somehow,” Butts says. “Someone will say ‘Justin Bieber. How are you going to pull this off? Well he came by Usher, and [producer and talent scout] LA Reid brought it up. Usher copies Michael Jackson; Michael Jackson copies James Brown. We’re back to King just as quickly.
“And I can pretty much do that with most artists,” Butts insists. “Somehow I can take you back to King or something that started King.”
As CityBeat note in our detailed feature on King Records, the label and studio have a sprawling and important legacy that the King Records Legacy Foundation tries to highlight. To do this, the foundation is preserving some of the buildings in the King Complex to turn them into an active learning center and museum.
But before the future can be realized, it’s important to consider – and hear – the musical past.
Major King Records Milestones
1943: Syd Nathan founds King Records, signs initial artists Grandpa Jones and Merle Travis.
1944: Brewster Avenue in Evanston becomes the administrative headquarters of King Records.
1947: A recording studio is added, streamlining the process of creating records under one roof.
1948: Syd Nathan hires Henry Glover as one of the first leaders of Black A&R.
1954: “Hearts of Stone” by The Charms has been released.
1956: Release of “Please, Please, Please” by James Brown.
1959: “The Twist” by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters is out.
1963: James Brown’s Live at the Apollo was released, becoming King Records’ most successful album.
1968: Syd Nathan dies, former A&R executive Hal Neely buys the company and merges with Starday Records in Nashville.
1971: Hal Neely sells Brown’s masters to Polydor Records, Cincinnati location closes, operations as King Records cease.
1973: The property of King Records is sold, the new owners transform the site into a warehouse.
1997 : The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducts Syd Nathan.
2008: Rock Hall installs a historical marker on the site of King Records in Evanston.
2015 : The King Records site honored as an official Cincinnati landmark.
2018: City of Cincinnati acquires several King buildings, preservation work begins.
2019: Bootsy Collins, Philip Paul and Otis Williams form the King Records Legacy Committee.
2020: King Records Legacy Committee creates an official organization, King Records Legacy Foundation.
2021: The King Records Legacy Foundation gains nonprofit status from the IRS, secures private funding for site development, and secures a million dollar pledge from the City of Cincinnati.
2022: The Foundation is awaiting approval for King Records to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is awaiting finalization of the Preferred Development Agreement proposed by the City of Cincinnati.
Information taken from “A King Records Scrapbook” by Brian FX Powers and conversations with Elliott Ruther and Kent Butts.
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