Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Music lovers plan Kings Records tribute

Poor King Records. Cincinnati's fabled record label was slated to receive some long-overdue official recognition in March.

Hold off buying any confetti. The plans are on hold.

Financial concerns have waylaid the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's intentions to hang a plaque at the Evanston building where black and white musicians worked together in harmony. Their efforts helped King crank out 461 hits from 1944 through 1970, thanks to eight future hall of famers, including James Brown.

The old King plant, where tunes were recorded and pressed under one roof, has been a warehouse for 33 years. Still, the hall of fame so admired King's accomplishments it was set to declare the chocolate-brown brick structure a Rock and Roll Landmark.

Those plans are in limbo. But don't lose hope.

Government aid

City Hall - of all places - might come to the rescue. Council could allocate funds to celebrate King's legacy and honor local musicians.

So says Terry Stewart, president and CEO of the Cleveland-based hall of fame.

Stewart set the March date. Now, he's thinking summer.

"I'm working with John Cranley," he said, dropping the councilman's name.

"He's taking the bull by the horns. I'm waiting for him to get back to me to tell me when we are going forward."

Cranley loves music. He's a huge Beatles fan.

The native Cincinnatian admits he knew nothing "about King's legacy until I got elected to council."

News of the hall of fame's intention to honor the building on Brewster Avenue first appeared in this column in November. At the time, I proposed making the event more than a one-shot deal. The label deserves more than a ceremony where a crowd gathers, dignitaries speak, a plaque is dedicated and then everybody goes home and forgets about King Records.

Plaque plus

Cranley aims to take me at my word. He wants "a plaque and a city-owned billboard at the site, saying `this is where James Brown and those other famous names, like Bootsy Collins, made great music. For more information, see the permanent exhibit.' ''

The exhibit would display King memorabilia at the Museum Center at Union Terminal or the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

The councilman also envisions an endowment fund paying for an annual King Records tribute concert and "a grant to a young singer-songwriter living in Cincinnati."

These plans will take time - thus the talk of a summer date - and money.

Cranley estimates the King tributes would cost $400,000 to endow. Private donations would cover $300,000 with public funds picking up the rest.

Before asking council for taxpayer dollars, Cranley plans to assemble "a committee with a heavy-hitter board that's already committed serious money."

As he did when he led efforts in council to save the Covedale Theater, he wants private money in place before the city commits a dime.

Cranley has the tools to turn a planned King Records tribute into reality.

He's methodical and dogged in his pursuits. And, he builds coalitions to get things done.

For the King Records project, he wants to form a trio with councilman Jim Tarbell and Vice Mayor Alicia Reece. Tarbell, head of council's arts and culture committee, is dedicated to music made in Cincinnati. Reece is dedicated to improving neighborhoods such as Evanston.

They need to work fast. King left Cincinnati a legacy of racial harmony. In the city's stormy climate, that message needs to be preserved and perpetuated sooner rather than later.

Call Cliff Radel at 768-8379; or e-mail: cradel@enquirer.com.

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