Hard Rock's Tribute to King Records Cincinnati

Launched in 1943, King Records has become one of the most successful record companies in history — and it all started in Cincinnati. Now that Hard Rock has opened its doors in Queen City, it’s time we paid homage to this pioneering music label. That’s why we’ve created a memorabilia tribute to some of our favorite King Records artists.

Read on to learn more about the history of King Records in Cincinnati, discover our exhibit, and see how our awesome new mural came to life over the last few months.

King Records: Cincinnati’s Original Record Company

King Records was built by Cincinnati businessman Syd Nathan. During the Depression, Nathan launched Syd’s Record Shop on West Fifth Street. After closing his first record store and living briefly in Florida, Nathan returned to Cincinnati, where he started Syd’s Record Shop on Central Avenue. There he became familiar with popular country recording artists like Merle Travis and Louis M. “Grandpa” Jones.

In 1943, Nathan decided to start his own record label for country music. He managed to persuade Merle Travis and Grandpa Jones to record the label’s first record in Dayton, Ohio: “The Steppin’ Out Kind/You’ll Be Lonesome Too.” Since these artists were still under contract with the Cincinnati radio station WLW, they were billed as the Sheppard Brothers and King Records was born.

The company’s first records were so poorly pressed that the sound quality was terrible. Nathan started his own pressing plant to ensure a higher-quality music experience. He also created his own recording studio, album designs, and distribution network within the same facility. Unlike other independent record labels, King Records was completely self-sufficient. This decision allowed King Records to lower costs, compete with major labels, and put Cincinnati on the map. The record label went on to own several divisions, including Queen Records and Federal Records.

A Record Label for True American Music

In the 1940s, Cincinnati was a city of both rural and urban living. Country music dominated the airwaves, but there were people from all walks of life who came to Queen City to work. Nathan wanted to support the “music of the little people,” as he called it, and targeted more neglected markets. He also encouraged crossovers, with his country stars singing R&B hits and his R&B artists covering country songs.

After World War II and throughout the 1950s, King Records focused on R&B music. This move helped launch the career of a singer who would become one of the most famous King Records artists: James Brown. Brown signed on with the Federal Records division of King Records in Cincinnati in 1956 with his group The Famous Flames. Their first record sold over one million copies.

You can check out one of James Brown’s best live performances in our list of awesome YouTube concerts here!

Tributes to King Records of Cincinnati

When Nathan died in 1968, King Records was acquired by Starday Records, which rebranded as Starday and King Records. Collectables Records now reissues the King Records discography.

Nathan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 and his headquarters at 1540 Brewster Avenue in Cincinnati still stands. While former King Records artists like James Brown and Bootsy Collins are trying to get this building recognized as a historic landmark, there have already been tributes to King Records in Cincinnati. The Cincy Blues Fest played a successful concert of Kings Record discography, and now Hard Rock Cincinnati is excited to recognize this pioneering label.

Our tribute includes unique images of King Records artists as well as a collection of incredible artefacts. Don’t miss Otis Williams’ suit and microphone, one of Bootsy Collins’ outfits, and one of James Brown’s suits.

See More Rockin’ Memorabilia!

In addition to our tribute to King Records artists, we’ve also unveiled a rockin’ new mural at our property. Led by artist Jenny Ustick, this masterpiece depicts some of our favorite local music icons, including King Records’ Bootsy Collins. Head to Valet Parking to see the mural of Tracy Chapman, Doris Day, John Legend, The Isley Brothers, Chrissie Hynde, and more! 

Hard Rock Cincinnati is also proud to showcase a new collection of memorabilia at Hard Rock Cafe. Read about our favorite pieces in this blog post so you can find the coolest memorabilia on your next visit to our property!

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