Committee formed to plan future of King Records, ‘birthplace’ of rock and hip-hop

Updated: Oct. 31, 2019 at 7:14 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (FOX19) - City council voted Wednesday to form the King Records Legacy Committee, bringing the world-famous record company located at 1540 Brewster Avenue in Evanston one step closer to revival.

“We’re trying to bring back the life that should’ve never left,” said committee-member Kent Butts.

Butts’ father, Otis Williams, was one of the musicians who recorded at King Records during its 30-year run.

At its height, King Records employed an integrated workforce of 400 people who recorded, pressed, packaged and shipped vinyl records around the world, according to a 2015 report prepared by the Bootsy Collins Foundation and the Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation.

The label was a music pioneer, says the report, producing trailblazing hits in soul, bluegrass, doo wop, jazz and blues while birthing new musical genres like rock and roll, funk and hop-hop.

The label’s list of alumni speaks for itself: James Brown, Little Willie John, Ralph Bass, Johnny Otis, Ike Turner, Bootsy Collins, Hank Ballard, John Lee Hooker, Charles Brown, The Midnighters, The Platters, The O’Jays, Otis Redding, Freddie King and many more.

Yes, you might say King Records was the Motown of Cincinnati.

Then again, you probably shouldn’t, because King Records beat Motown to the punch by 20 years. It predated Memphis’s Sun Records too, and L.A.’s Capitol Tower, and Nashville’s RCA Studios, along with many of the recording giants that dominate the industry today.

And it was more important to music than any of them, according to former Rock and Roll Hall of Fame President Terry Stewart.

“Between 1943 and 1971, the address of 1540 Brewster Avenue in Cincinnati was home to some of the most vibrant and eclectic music-making in America,” Stewart wrote in a 2008 statement to the City of Cincinnati. “There was never a more important piece of real estate musically or culturally in the history of popular music.”

In other words, it would be nearly impossible to overstate the historical impact of King Records on the nation and world.

That, at any rate, was the analysis of the 2015 report mentioned above, though it also described the complex as being in a state of ‘gross disrepair.’

The city stepped in to save King Records from being demolished in 2015 by applying a historic landmark designation, according to city documents. It would purchase the complex in a property swap two years later, and in October 2018 funds were allocated to stabilize the buildings.

Now council has entrusted the King Records’ legacy to the King Records Legacy Committee so that one day this piece of music history will be revived and restored.

“It’s a public project,” Butts said. “It’s gonna be based around education. Everything about this is educational.”

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