On Race Music


Underground is the opening number in Memphis: The Musical, which received 8 Tony nominations while winning 4 (2010) – including Best Musical. The story (loosely true) is about a white DJ in Memphis who played black music in the 1950s to a White audience. The musical’s script includes “race music” as a descriptive phrase.

In my almost 66 years, I haven’t heard “race music” before, well – until 10 days before attending a community theater performance of Memphis: The Musical when we saw the premier of a new play – Cincinnati King – a story about Cincinnati-based King Records. (Click for video ad.) From not ever hearing the term to it crossing my path twice within 10 days is a bit odd – but also a sign for a blog post.

Within a week after attending Memphis: The Musical, we saw a new movie (well, new at the time) – Green Book – many thumbs up! (Click for trailer.) Although not about race music, this movie involves both music and racism. Another timely event for my November and this post. However, this post is about Memphis and Cincinnati – so, let’s jump to Cleveland.

Cleveland is in the diagonally opposite corner of Ohio from Cincinnati – a 4 hour drive downtown-to-downtown. Cleveland is also home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Hall). Besides putting up the money to get the Hall, the location is based on Alan Freed, a Cleveland DJ (WJW) who coined the term rock and roll. Interestingly, Freed’s “sign-on” song was on the King Records label.

Then there is Terry Stewart, the Hall’s longest serving CEO and current President Emeritus, who said the following: “There are only three places in the country that can claim to be the birthplace of rock and roll: New Orleans, Memphis, and Cincinnati.” (Reminder of the two plays that I saw.)

Image from Wikipedia

King Records is the reason Cincinnati is in that quote. Syd Nathan, a local sales hustler, started King Records in 1943. With Cincinnati being home to one of the nation’s most powerful radio stations (WLW) and the local population having many Blacks and poor Appalachian Whites, Nathan saw a musical opportunity.

In time, Nathan grew King Records into one of the most successful independent record labels in the country, Nathan also controlled the recording, mastering, pressing, and shipping processes because they were typically done in-house – therefore a quick turnaround from recording to store shelves.

By realizing the importance of music to different populations, Nathan’s stable of artists included country & western, rhythm & blues, gospel, bluegrass, rockabilly, and boogie woogie. On the “B-side” of 45s, he often put a crossover song or artist to expand the music to different populations. Yes, Nathan promoted and distributed race music.

Fever was a hit for Peggy Lee in 1958 – but did you know that King Records Little Willie John recorded Fever two years earlier?


Everyone knows the success with The Twist. Did you know that the song was first done by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters on King Records? Ballard was unavailable for American Bandstand, so Dick Clark (who wanted the song on the show) turned to a local artist to perform the song as a cover – enter Chubby Checker.


Music buffs may know King Records names as Albert King, Grandpa Jones, Joe Tex, The Dominoes, The Charms, Freddie King, and John Lee Hooker – but the biggest name at King Records was none other than the Godfather of Soul – James Brown – with this mega-hit that won Brown his first Grammy Award (Best R&B Performance, 1966).


Syd Nathan died in 1968. Although King Records final demise would shortly follow, it’s impact on the music industry would last forever. Meanwhile, the City of Cincinnati is considering a King Records Museum. Let’s toast the pioneers of race music in Cincinnati and Memphis. Cheers!

On Ohio: The Musical

Most realize that Ohio is pivotal in the upcoming election. This post earlier in the week provided information that you don’t hear on the news. Because I realize my readers have a variety of interesting and musical preferences, and in the spirit of the election season, A Frank Angle Productions present Ohio: The Musical – a historical journey through music.

Enjoy … hope you found some gems! Alright, which fit your interests today?

1700s: Banks of the Ohio (First recorded 1927, eventually a Monroe Brothers hit (Olivia Newton John, 1972)

1854: Down by the Ohio (OSU Marching Band version)

Date unknown, but it fits here: Rollin’ Down the Ohio

1918: Beautiful Ohio

1965: Hang on Sloopy by Ohio’s own The McCoys, thus the state’s Official Rock Song

1970: Ohio about a sad day in our history by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young


1978: Theme to WKRP in Cincinnati (with scenes of my city)

1983: My Town by Michael Stanley Band

1986: Cuyahoga by R.E.M

1995: Youngstown by Bruce Springsteen

1996: Drew Carey Show’s Theme Song – Cleveland Rocks by Ian Hunter

2003: Ohio by Over the Rhine

On a Monday Squeeze for Beeze

I didn’t spend my youth in Cleveland, but during my days on a northwest Ohio campus, I met many Clevelanders. Heck, I knew enough about the area that I could make some believe I was from there. Today, my C-Town contacts are limited to my sister-in-laws, a few friends, and a crazy blogger named Beeze.

During my campus days Clevelanders raved about the late weekend show hosted by Hollihan and Big Chuck. For your Monday Morning entertainment, I dedicate this post to my Cleveland family and friends of the past, present, and future.