SYDNEY ''SYD'' NATHAN – was an American music business executive, who founded King Records, a leading independent record label, in 1943. He contributed to the development of country and western, rhythm and blues and rock and
roll music, and is credited with discovering many prominent musicians, most notably James Brown whose first single "Please, Please, Please" was released on the subsidiary label Federal in 1956. Nathan was described as "One of the truly eccentric figures of the record industry... who ruled his label like a dictator...
and constantly screamed and intimidated his artists and employees". He was posthumously inducted into
the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, in the "non-performer" category, in 1997.
Syd Nathan was born on April 27, 1904 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He left school in the ninth grade,
and suffered from poor eyesight and asthma. He played as a drummer in clubs, and spent his early adulthood working in a series of jobs in real estate, amusement parks, and pawn and jewelry stores. In the mid 1930s,
with his sister and her husband, he opened a radio and phonograph store, before moving to Florida to be with his brother and open a photofinishing business. Nathan moved back to Cincinnati in the early 1940s, and
opened a record store, Syd's Record Shop, initially selling used juke box records. In 1943 he started King Records; after it failed initially, he re-financed it with the support of family members. The label was originally intended to produce hillbilly
records, but Nathan diversified when he discovered the demands of African American teenagers for what were then called "race records". Early records were pressed in Louisville but, because of their poor quality, Nathan set up his own record pressing plant in 1944 on the premises at 1540
Avenue in Cincinnati, home of King Records for the next 25 years. He also set up his own recording studio on site and made his own distribution arrangements across the Midwest rather
than relying on national companies.
Nathan set up the Queen label to record
rhythm and blues artists in 1945, but it was soon absorbed within the King label. Over the years, King assimilated many other smaller labels, including DeLuxe, and set up several subsidiaries such as Federal. The company's talent scouts found many future recording stars. Early signings to the King label or
its subsidiaries included Bull Moose Jackson, Lucky Millinder, Tiny Bradshaw, Earl Bostic, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Wynonie Harris, The Dominoes, Little Willie John, Bill Doggett,
and Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, whose song "Work With Me, Annie", was one of the label's biggest successes.
Nathan successfully recorded country performers such as The Delmore Brothers, The Stanley Brothers, Moon Mullican, Cowboy Copas and Grandpa Jones, and also gospel singers. He actively encouraged white performers to record rhythm and blues songs, and vice versa, not as a deliberate attempt at integration but as a
way of maximising his song publishing revenue. Nathan said: "We saw a need. Why should we go into all those towns and only sell to the hillbilly accounts? Why can't we sell a few
more while we're there? So we got in the race business''.
his citation at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: "In the process of working with black rhythm and blues and white country artists, Nathan helped effect a cross-pollination of the two
worlds, thereby helping lay the groundwork for the musical hybrid known as rock and roll''.
1956, talent scout Ralph Bass signed James Brown to King, and recorded "Please, Please, Please". Nathan reportedly commented at the time: "That's the worse piece of crap I've heard
in my life. It's someone stuttering on a record only saying one word....". However, the record was a success. Although Nathan and Brown had a volatile relationship over the years, Brown later said of Nathan: "I would be telling a lie if I said I would be a world star without the help
of men like Mr. Nathan. He was the first one willing to take a chance on me''. Brown continued to record for King, despite occasional lawsuits between the two and Nathan's initial refusal to fund Brown's album Live at the Apollo, recorded in 1962, which was one of his most successful and influential,
reaching number 2 on the United States album chart.
King Records was noted as one of the first racially integrated companies in the United States record business, and as "one of the few recording companies to make a record from start to finish, all under one roof''. This gave the company
a strong competitive edge, allowing songs to be recorded, pressed, and distributed within a week. By the 1960s, it had become the sixth largest record company in the United States and was responsible for over 250 hits on the rock, pop, rhythm and blues and country charts. However, King's impact declined in the
1960s, after Nathan was implicated in the payola scandal.
In addition to credits received in his own name, Nathan used the pseudonym Lois Mann for song
publishing and copyrights in order to obtain a share of the songwriter royalties, as was common record company owner practice.
"Syd Nathan", "Sydney Nathan", and "Lois Mann" are each credited with the same 202 song titles, including "Annie Had A Baby", "I'll Sail My Ship Alone", "Signed Sealed And Delivered",
and "Train Kept A-Rollin'".
Nathan had longstanding health issues, and
heart problems began to emerge during his fifties. He died of heart disease and complicated by pneumonia om March 5, 1968 in Miami, Florida at the age of 64. He was buried at the Judah Touro Cemetery in Cincinnati. Sydney ''Syd'' Nathan was posthumously inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of
Fame in 1997, and the Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 2007.
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