Cincinnati’s King Records had another good year in 2009, even though the pioneering R&B/Soul/Country label for all practical purposes left the city — and ceased having any meaningful impact on popular music — when its founder, Syd Nathan, died in 1968.
This year saw two books about King, a photo-oriented Arcadia one from Randy McNutt and a long-in-the-works thorough history, Jon Hartley Fox’s King of the Queen City. Meanwhile, Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation placed a marker outside 811 Race St. honoring the 1945-1955 existence of the E.T. Herzog Recording Co., where several of King’s most influential early hits were recorded. The foundation also moved into the space that once housed the studio.
So now what? Next year is poised to bring the first real public effort to create a King museum, at the same time that it may also see the new Cincinnati USA Music Heritage Foundation space used as an exhibits gallery. But whether the original King site at 1540 Brewster Ave. in Evanston, now a graffiti-splattered warehouse, can or should be saved remains a source of concern.
Elliott Ruther, CUMHF president, says his group is looking at building a King Records collection to display at its new space, as well as launch efforts to study and display other aspects of Cincinnati music history, like Cincinnati Blues, the old Fifth Floor Recording Studio and Ludlow Garage.
It also wants to develop a King Records course at Cincinnati State University, where Ruther is director of development. It is in the process of organizing as a non-profit, so it can address such issues as staffing and fundraising.
Meanwhile, Jim Tarbell, former city councilman (and Ludlow Garage founder), says a consortium trying to create a museum in Evanston hopes to start fundraising early next year. “Probably right after the first of the year, formal presentations are to be made and solicitations sought,” he says. Tarbell serves on what is called the “King Studios” committee as a representative of the Norwood-based architectural firm SHP, for whom he does community work.
That committee has a daunting task in this economic clime — it wants to raise $10-$12 million for a 12,000-square-foot museum, for-profit recording studio, multipurpose space and visual arts studio along the west side of Montgomery Road, between Brewster and Clarion avenues. Xavier University, whose campus is partially in Evanston, is behind the effort and its president, the Rev. Michael J. Graham, has agreed to lead the effort, Tarbell says.
The group also has $900,000 in city neighborhood-development money earmarked for Evanston Community Council for use in buying property. Anzora Adkins, Evanston Council president, says the city is now doing an environmental evaluation of the site.
But the “King Studios” effort, designed to help improve the business district, has no plans for purchasing and renovating 1540 Brewster, which is off in a little-traveled pocket of Evanston bordering Interstate 71. Its King-related contents are long gone.
Yet, Terry Stewart — the president of Cleveland-based Rock and Roll Hall of Fame who was an early advocate of placing a marker at 1540 Brewster — has publicly warned that to let that building be neglected would negate everything else. He has said, “there was never a more important piece of real estate musically or culturally in the history of popular music.”
Tarbell says his group would make “every effort to make sure the building stays, regardless of what’s there.” And Ruther calls it a “sacred space.” Yet, he adds, “to get that space is a complicated scenario.”
CONTACT STEVEN ROSEN: [email protected]