Saturday, November 2, 2002

RADEL: King Records makes history again

The old King Records plant is going to be declared a landmark in March.

The long-overdue honor for the chocolate-brown brick building in Evanston comes from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.

Terry Stewart, the hall's president and CEO , told me he appreciates King's status as a hitmaker and pioneer in integration.

"So it is incredibly appropriate," he said, "that we do this in Cincinnati."

Knowing this city, and how it prides itself on throwing parties to celebrate its mighty achievements, I expect my hometown to turn this into a huge event.

Here's why: What's good for the old King plant will be even better for the Queen City.

Events coinciding with the unveiling of the bronze plaque could go a long way toward mending the city's tattered race relations.

People will be reminded that a spot exists - in, of all places, racially divided Cincinnati - where blacks and whites worked together. And excelled.

Without regard to skin color, they made music that rocked with heart and soul.

Home of hits

The King building will receive its elevated status through the hall of fame's Rock and Roll Landmarks program. The old plant, essentially a warehouse since the record label left 32 years ago, will be the hall's first landmark outside Cleveland, which has four.

From 1944 to 1970, the King plant put 461 records on the charts.

Many of those songs - including a slew of James Brown's greatest hits - were recorded at the plant's studio.

No fewer than eight King alumni, including James Brown, Cincinnatian Bootsy Collins and the label's frog-voiced founder, Syd Nathan, are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In the recording industry, Syd Nathan's label led the way in integration. From King's inception, black R&B artists and white country musicians routinely performed on each other's recordings.

Coming in 2003

Because of King's social and cultural impact, Terry Stewart wants the 2003 ceremonies to be of lasting significance.

For Black History Month in February, he said the hall plans to develop a program about King Records to take into the schools.

Cincinnati Public Schools' brain trust should jump on this idea. Work with the hall of fame. Make the program a permanent part of history and music courses. Give students a reason to be proud of their city. Teach them valuable lessons about unity. Remind them, if it happened here once, this spirit of cooperation and respect can happen again.

Beyond the obligatory plaque unveiling and dignitaries' speeches, March's ceremonies will include music.

"Maybe," Terry Stewart said, "we can get Hank Ballard." He wrote and first recorded "The Twist" for King.

The hall's president doesn't "have any hope of getting James Brown. Nobody is going to spend that kind of money."

Not so fast. Ask the mayor. Charlie Luken convinced James Brown to come to town for a brief, boycott-busting performance at the 2001 Taste of Cincinnati.

Maybe the mayor could get him for the grand unveiling. No harm in asking.

City funds could make this happen. Refer it to City Council's Arts and Culture committee. Jim Tarbell runs it. He loves music. And Cincinnati history. Plus, he's all for improving race relations.

Untold amounts of good could come from honoring this old building.

Standing for hard work and harmony, this landmark reminds Cincinnati that it has a proud history.

Don't tear it down. Built it up.

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