Syd Nathan put his plan to launch a record label into action in September of 1943, enlisting Country music entertainers Grandpa Jones and Merle Travis to record the first music for the venture, which Nathan dubbed “King Records.” To mark the beginning of what would become one of the most crucial record labels in the history of music, Cincinnati has been celebrating King Records Month in September for the past several years.
In honor of the 75th anniversary of those first King sessions, this year’s celebration is too big to contain in just one month, getting an early start this week and with exhibits and other events extending through the end of 2018.
Here is an overview of just some of the free (unless noted) events planned around Cincinnati (including online and on local radio airwaves). For a more comprehensive list of most of the forthcoming King happenings, visit kingstudios.org. Some events are in the “to be announced” planning stages, so be sure to check the site for updates. All events listed are subject to change.
Celebrate the King: The Gala (5 p.m. at Memorial Hall, 1225 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, memorialhallotr.com; $20-$80)
A multimedia celebration of all things King, the Gala kicks the litany of events off in style, honoring some of the legends associated with the label and sharing stories about the past, while also looking ahead to the future of King. There will be musical performances throughout, panel discussions, video testimonials and lots of surprises. Lifetime Achievement Awards will be presented in honor of King greats Bootsy Collins, Henry Glover, Philip Paul and Otis Williams. According to promotional materials, a portion of the proceeds from tickets will go to preserving the original King site in Evanston and to support the musicians associated with King. Visit thekingcelebration.com for details.
Aug. 31-Sept. 25
The King of Them All Poster Exhibit (MOTR Pub, 1345 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, motrpub.com; opening party 5 p.m. Aug. 31)
Art Academy of Cincinnati students reimagined vintage posters that promoted concerts by various King musicians in local venues like Music Hall for this exhibition.
Sept. 1-Dec. 31
King Records 1943 to 1973: Thirty Years that Changed American Music (National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, 50 E Freedom Way, freedomcenter.org; free with museum admission)
This exhibit covers King’s three decades of operation, with banners and accompanying music tracking the label as it released music that would become important to the development of Country, R&B, Rock & Roll, Soul, Funk, Bluegrass, Rockabilly and other genres. King artist portraits by design shop We Have Become Vikings (the engine behind Aug. 25’s Gala) will also be displayed.
Ricky Nye Plays King (8 p.m. at Grand Central Bistro & Bar, 6085 Montgomery Road, Pleasant Ridge)
The Cincy Boogie Woogie Blues piano legend plays selections from King’s vast catalog.
Radio King: Moon Mullican (11 p.m. on WVXU and re-airing 7 p.m. Sept. 2; 91.7 FM or wvxu.org)
Lee Hay explores the career of the innovative “King of the Hillbilly Piano Players” through music and interviews.
Listermann Brewing Company “King Records” Beer Unveiling (TBA at Listermann Brewing Co., 1621 Dana Ave., Evanston)
What’s a big-time Cincinnati happening without a beer in its honor? Listermann reveals the brew and which King alumni will join Syd Nathan as on-the-label honorees for its series honoring King.
Radio King: Dee Felice Trio (8 a.m. on WDJO: 99.5 and 107.9 FM, 1480 AM and oldies1480.net)
Carmon DeLeone spins the late ’60s music from this still-active Jazz trio, with cuts from In Heat, recorded at King’s studios, and Getting’ Down To It, the album of Jazz standards on which they backed James Brown.
The Twist the Movie (6:30 p.m. at the Main Library, 800 Vine St., Huenefeld Tower Room, Downtown)
Documentary film about one of King’s most notorious hits, “The Twist” (as recorded by its composer, Hank Ballard, 60 years ago this year), as well as Chubby Checker’s hugely successful version, the dance craze that grew out of it and more.
The Wild, Weird & Mostly True Legend of Syd Nathan, Founder of King Records (6:30 p.m. at Mercantile Library, 414 Walnut St., Downtown)
King historians and experts Randy McNutt (author of King Records of Cincinnati), Darren Blase and Brian Powers are joined by Syd Nathan’s nephew, Steve Halper, to discuss the life and legacy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and king of King.
Radio King: James Brown’s Lost King Album (6 p.m. on Radio Artifact: radioartifact.com)
Cincinnati Funk artist Freekbass spins James Brown’s triple-disc live album — taken from a Paris show in the early ’70s when Bootsy and Catfish Collins were part of his band — that was shelved when Brown left King’s roster, only to finally resurface more than 40 years later.
World’s Largest Twist Dance (post-Reds game/pre-fireworks at Great American Ball Park, 100 Joe Nuxhall Way, Downtown)
Come help potentially set a new world record and do The Twist, based on the locally recorded King single of the same name six decades ago.
Radio King: Surf Party (6 p.m. on WAIF: 88.3 FM)
King even released Surf music? Oh yeah. Hang 10 with Rock-it Rick, Midwest Surf Guy and Handsome Dan (of the Rockin’ & Surfin’ show) as they spin cuts from King’s Surf LPs like Freddie King Goes Surfin’.
Radio King: James Brown Productions Part 1 (11 p.m. on WVXU; re-airing 7 p.m. Sept. 9)
One of King Records Month’s primary instigators, historian Brian Powers, interviews David Matthews, Alan Leeds and others who worked with James Brown behind the scenes.
King Square Dance (Northside Tavern, 4163 Hamilton Ave., Northside, northsidetav.com)
At the regular Northside Square Dance night at Northside Tavern, pick up a copy of one of King’s early-’60s square dance albums, complete with instructional booklets, then stick around and do-si-do the night away.
Radio King: King of the Country Deejays: Nelson King (4 p.m. on WMKV: 89.33 FM)
Mike Martini presents a special about wildly influential and popular DJ Nelson King and his Cincinnati-based show, Hillbilly Jamboree, which helped popular Country music on a grand scale.
Jake Speed & the Freddies Play King (9 p.m. at Imago, 700 Enright Ave., Price Hill, imagoearth.org)
The Cincinnati Folk favorites play songs by The Delmore Brothers, Merle Travis and more King Roots artists in an idyllic setting.
The Wham of That Memphis Man!: Lonnie Mack (1 p.m. at the Main Library, 800 Vine St., Downtown)
Carl Edmondson, who recorded seminal singles by Blues Rock pioneer Lonnie Mack at King, talks about the guitarist with historian and author Randy McNutt.
Radio King: James Brown Productions Part 2 (11 p.m. on WVXU; re-airing 7 p.m. Sept. 16)
Brian Powers talks with King’s Sisters of Righteous, James Brown backup musicians Jimmy Railey and Waddell Falland and Dr. Kay Robinson, who recorded a Gospel album for Brown’s company.
Comet Bluegrass Allstars play King (7:30 p.m. at The Comet, 4579 Hamilton Ave., Northside, cometbar.com)
Masterful local musicians turn their “Bluegrass Sunday” show over to the music of King’s Bluegrass greats.
Cheryl Renée Plays King (7 p.m. at Arnold’s, 210 E. Eighth St., Downtown, arnoldsbarandgrill.com)
Cincinnati Blues singer/pianist tackles some classics from the King catalog.
Reno & Smiley – Good Old Country Ballads (7 p.m. at the Main Library, 800 Vine St., Downtown)
Bluegrass historians Fred Bartenstein and Mac McDivitt discuss the duo’s album Good Old Country Ballads, one of several they released through King in the ’50s and ’60s.
The Tokyo Happy Coats (3 p.m. at the Main Library, 800 Vine St., Downtown)
One of the more undernoted stories from King involves The Tokyo Happy Coats, five sisters from Tokyo who became popular on the lounge circuit in the ’60s. Radford University’s Roy Baugher will discuss the group’s career, which included a pair of albums and singles for King.
Radio King: A King Records Potpourri (11 p.m. on WVXU; re-airing 7 p.m. Sept. 23)
Music and discussion about a wide range of King happenings, including the status of the King building in Evanston and a King museum planned for Shake It Records.
King Swing Dance Party (7 p.m. at College Hill Town Hall, 1805 Larch Ave., College Hill; $5)
Dance to King Jump Blues legends Bull Moose Jackson, Tiny Bradshaw, Wynonie Harris and more until 8 p.m. (Cincinnati Lindy Society’s weekly swing dance continues until 9 p.m.)
Ronnie Hollyman–The Quiet Man (7 p.m. at the Main Library, 800 Vine St., Downtown)
Jim Tarbel discusses British comedian/singer Ronnie Hollyman, whose 1960 King Records’ album The Quiet Man was recorded during a 10-week run at Walnut Hills nightclub The Key Room.
Reds Sportscaster Waite Hoyt and King (1 p.m. at Moerlein Lager House, 115 Joe Nuxhall Way, The Banks, Downtown)
Capitalizing on the popularity of Cincinnati Reds play-by-play announcer Waite Hoyt’s stories told during rain delays, King put out a collection of them as The Best of Waite Hoyt in the Rain in 1963. Cincinnati broadcasting legend Nick Clooney and Reds historian Greg Rhodes discuss Hoyt’s legacy.
Kings (and Queens) of Cincinnati Music (1 p.m. at MOTR Pub, 1345 Main St., Over-the-Rhine)
Historian Christine Anderson discusses King’s importance to Cincinnati’s history.
Cincinnati Preservation Fall Forum (noon at Hall of Mirrors in Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza, 35 W. Fifth St., Downtown)
A discussion/luncheon about King and the efforts to rescue of the label’s building from demolition. Former President and CEO of the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame Terry Stewart, a vocal supporter of the preservation, is the keynote speaker.
Nov. 3-Dec. 23
Cincinnati King : The Musical (various showtimes at Playhouse in the Park, 962 Mount Adams Circle, Mount Adams, cincyplay.com)
Cincinnati’s renowned theatrical instituion presents the world premiere of Cincinnati King, a musical based on Syd Nathan’s and King’s rise in the industry and the King artists who made such a big impact on music and culture in America.