March 5, 1968: Syd Nathan’s “Race Records”
Record producer Syd Nathan, a high school drop-out who founded King Records in Cincinnati, died at 63 on this date in 1968. King Records released James Brown’s first single, “Please, Please”, as well as Brown’s 1963 hit album, Live at the Apollo, Vol. I, and created mainstream audiences for rhythm and blues artists as well as rockabilly icons like Hank Ballard. Syd Nathan began as a retail store owner with a mail-order record business, then began to press his own discs for distribution in the late 1940s. His label not only brought together black and white musicians, and cross-pollinated hillbilly and “race” music, but was the first record company to employ African Americans among its workforce of 400, with some black executives even managing white Appalachian bands. Nathan also enriched himself, however, by sharing or stealing songwriting credits for many of King’s acts, which assured a steady stream of royalties to him. He was an observant Jew who suffered from severe near-sightedness, asthma, and heart disease, yet he worked indefatigably and was one of the true originators of rock and roll — for which he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.
“We pay for ability. And ability has no race, no religion, no color.” —Syd Nathan