Thursday, August 01, 2002

The Queen City's King

A marker for a vinyl destination

        Better late than never, the old King Records plant could finally get its historical marker.

        But first, the Ohio Bicentennial Commission and Cincinnati businessman Steve Dohme must sign on the dotted line.

        The commission runs a marker project linked to the state's 2003 bicentennial.

        Plans call for installing 237 cast aluminum signs at historically significant sites around the state in time for Ohio's 200th birthday party.

        Steve owns half of the old record plant. Painted chocolate brown, the brick building sits next to Interstate 71 in Evanston. Inside, Steve stores equipment used by his construction firm.

        The plant has long been stripped of every trace of its musical past. Nevertheless, it still qualifies for a historical marker.

Deserving candidate

        Official recognition of King Records' accomplishments is long overdue.

        King put 461 records on the charts. From the label's founding in 1944 until the Evanston plant closed in 1970, 32 of those records went to No. 1.

        No fewer than eight members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame started at King. That number includes James Brown, King's biggest star, and Syd Nathan, the label's founder.

        Gravel-voiced, frog-faced Syd Nathan possessed an insatiable appetite for chewing on cigars and chewing out employees.

        He was a visionary in the music he recorded and in the realm of race relations. Unheard of for the times, he recorded black and white musicians together. He believed in diversity decades before the term became popular.

        For all of King Records' accomplishments, the label was ignored by Cincinnati officialdom. King may have employed scores of workers in its recording studio, pressing rooms and printing plant. It may have put hundreds of hits on the R&B, county, rock, pop and jazz charts. But, when Syd Nathan died in 1968 and the plant closed in 1970, there was nary a peep from City Hall.

Renewed hope

        An effort to install a historical marker outside the shuttered plant gained steam for a while, then fizzled in 1996.

        This summer, Patrick Korosec, the commission's Southwest Regional Representative, proposed the King site for a bicentennial marker. Since I led the charge for getting historical designation for the building in 1996, I asked Patrick what could be done to make this happen.

        He put me in touch with Phil Ross, coordinator of the markers program.

        “Are you willing,” Phil asked, to obtain “permission of the land owner?”

        Consider it done.

        “If there's something we can do to be a good neighbor,” Steve Dohme told me, “and it doesn't totally shoot our foot off, I'm not opposed.”

        Steve wondered if the marker would prevent anyone from making changes to the building.

        “It would not,” said Phil.

        Besides signing forms, , Steve must:

        Cooperate with the commission to select the best spot to display the marker. Corporate donors, says Phil Ross, will cover the $1,400-1,650 cost of the 45-by-48-inch marker. Steve will have to handle the installation. That should not be tough. He has good connections in the construction business.

        Participate in the March 2003 dedication ceremonies.

        Report any vandalism to the commission.

        “Graffiti boys come here a lot,” Steve said. Maybe the marker will “facilitate the police watching the place.”

        In truth, the old King plant deserves more than a marker.

        The building stands as a reminder: Cincinnati has not always fostered racial discord.

        King Records showed how people of different colors could get along. They knew the best music comes from working in harmony.

        Call Cliff Radel at 768-8379; or e-mail



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