Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Brings Free Music to Evanston, Honoring King Records

On July 15, the CSO will celebrate Evanston and King Records.

click to enlarge The original King Records site in Evanston. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. - Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
The original King Records site in Evanston. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra kicked off its summer concert series, “The Brady Block Parties,” in June. The free concerts are hosted in neighborhoods around Cincinnati – June saw a Pride celebration and a party in the West End.

This month the CSO is honoring an influential and fascinating piece of Cincinnati history, King Records. Of course the CSO, along with community partners, are throwing the party in Evanston, where King Records was founded.

On July 15, The Brady Block Party will celebrate the Evanston neighborhood, King Records and the “Queens of King Records” at Owl’s Nest Park, according to a press release. The Block Party is free and open to the public, it includes games and entertainment, food trucks and art activations by Elementz and the Robert O’Neal Multicultural Arts Center (ROMAC).

Tiffany Cooper, CSO director of community engagement and diversity, says the idea is for everyone to feel welcome, and for it to feel like a genuine block party.

“We definitely want people to walk and feel like they're walking into a block party," Cooper says. “So they can imagine coming into the park and there will be lots of vendor tables that represent community organizations, art activities like t-shirt making and face painting. So it's an opportunity for all ages to come and enjoy themselves in the park and engage with local community organizations, to engage with the CSO.”

Last year, when CityBeat reported on the King Records Legacy Foundation’s efforts to acquire and develop the original King Records site, It was revealed that a huge part of Cincinnati history influenced popular music at the time and even still today.

King Records was founded in 1943 in Cincinnati’s neighborhood of Evanston. The label went on to produce artists like Bootsy Collins and James Brown. Music that came out of King Records defined the sound of an era.

Most people will know the names Bootsy Collins and James Brown, but less will know their music was made in Cincinnati, and even less might be able to recall the women artists who were a huge part of the label’s success.

“The diversity of genres in which women performed and recorded [at King Records] is spectacular, including country, jazz, doo-wop, R&B, soul and funk,” Cincinnati Pops conductor John Morris Russell said in an email. “We’ll be performing tributes to several of these artists including, Bonnie Lou (‘Seven Lonely Days’); Mary Lou Williams (Zodiac Suite); The Jewels (‘Opportunity’); and ‘Big Maybelle’ Smith (‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’).”

Members of The Classical Roots Community Choir, Ciara Harper, Noël Walton and Vee Gibson form “The Soul Divas” trio of the CSO. Russell (known as JMR) says the launch of the choir was one of the most important initiatives the CSO made in its history. The choir was formed in 2011.

JMR attributes much of the Evanston Block Party programming to the research of musicologist and historian Christine Anderson. Anderson is creating an archive of women who were part of King Records.

“Women were essential to the success of King Records — as musicians, members of King’s racially integrated workplace and consumers,” the introduction to Anderson’s archives reads.

While King Records produced music across all genres, it was mostly known for rock and roll and R&B. These genres are rarely associated with an orchestra, which stands to make the CSO Block Party experience unique.

“Rock and roll is not an orchestral genre — it is most often performed with what we call in the business a “rhythm section” — guitars, piano/organ, bass and drum kit,” JMR said. “Of course, many classic rock, R&B and soul songs include orchestral instruments—what would Motown be without strings or James Brown without the brass?”

To learn more about the celebration and upcoming Brady Block Parties, visit the CSO’s website.

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About The Author

Katie Griffith

Katie Griffith is CityBeat’s arts and culture reporter. She proudly hails from the West Side of Cincinnati and studied journalism at the University of Cincinnati. After freelancing for CityBeat for many years, she is happy to continue sharing arts and culture news and stories in novel ways as a staff writer.
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