By Michael Colglazier, Staff Writer
Those familiar with popular Xavier housing neighborhoods may recognize King Records Studio, located on Brewster Avenue. What seems to be a worn-down building of yesteryear was actually home to some of the most influential music from the 1940s through the 1970s. All that is currently left of King Records is a plaque from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recognizing the record label’s innovation.
Originally beginning as a record label for country music in 1943, King Records evolved into a label for R&B music by ’45. Many important songs such as Hank Ballard’s “The Twist,” Little Willie John’s “Fever” and James Brown’s “Say it Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” were recorded at this studio.
The artists had fond memories of the studio. Bootsy Collins remembered feeling like he was “in Disney World every day in that parking lot at King Records, just waiting for the next ride.”
Founder Syd Nathan was one of the first music executives to push for radio stations to play music by Black artists. He directed White musicians to play the music of Black artists and have Black musicians play the music of White artists as a way to spread different styles of music across many different audiences.
Nathan’s policy of musical integration, as well as his craft of producing the vinyl and album covers himself on Brewster Avenue, are just two unique practices of King Records which helped cement its place in American history.
“Why are we not taking our history and putting it up like the rest of the, you know, Motown… I mean, we’ve got it here and we’re just throwing it away,” Collins said.
That is exactly what Xavier intends to fix. King Studios nonprofit is a collaboration between Xavier and the Evanston Community Council, dedicated to preserving the legacy of King Records.
The organization has created traveling exhibits intended to be shown in classrooms, as well as three exhibits which have been displayed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
Many Xavier students may not even be aware of how close the former King Records building is to campus. Only a six-minute drive always, the once-lively recording studio now sits almost forgotten. Any passerby would be forgiven for assuming that the former juggernaut of music history was just an average abandoned building. Aside from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame plaque, the establishment blends in with the typical Evanston property.
Because of its close proximity to Xavier, the non-profit believes students can continue learning the history of King Records.
“The Country and R&B music recorded at King was created by southern migrants who came to Cincinnati and other northern cities in the mid-20th century Great Migration,” Christine Anderson, President of the non-profit and former Xavier history professor, said.
“The musical genre they created together shaped the art and culture of the postwar era,” she added.
As Evanston has been an African American neighborhood since the 1960s, the importance of a distinguished record label which built itself on the principle of integrating many different styles of music from many different cultures cannot be understated. King Records is a part of not only Evanston history, but also Cincinnati history, which yearns to be remembered.
With Xavier’s involvement in preserving its legacy and the continued interest of Xavier’s students in the paramount label’s past, the non-profit hopes King Records will not fade with the sands of time and will be remembered as it should: a landmark studio which celebrated diversity as well as high quality music.
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