Sydney Nathan was the bombastic, coke-bottle-glasses-wearing, cigar-chomping founder and owner of King Records. Much of the company’s success may be attributed to his creativity as well as his stubbornness. Although he was not always the easiest person to work with, Syd always had a clear vision of what he wanted to hear from the musicians.
Syd was an entrepreneur before he was a success. His tenacity may have come from the fact that Nathan came from a tradition of Jewish business owners and that as a teenager he watched his own father adapt from one industry to another. Born in Cincinnati in 1904, Nathan suffered from bad asthma and worse eyesight. He dropped out of his freshman year of high school because he could not see the school materials. After that, he held a series of odd jobs and attempted several business ventures, from promoting wrestlers to operating a shooting gallery, before opening a record store in Cincinnati’s West End.
Nathan often said that he made “music for the little man.” This was true in many ways. Syd would not be deterred from what he saw as a lucrative business opportunity by racial or ethnic discrimination. He brought together white country or “hillbilly” musicians from Appalachia and black blues, R&B, gospel, and jazz musicians from the south. He hired musicians and Artist and Repertoire executives based on talent and ability rather than race or ethnicity. What Syd cared about was having the best people for the jobs he wanted done.
This attitude likely contributed to King Records’ success: Nathan and everyone involved with the company were able to think outside the box. They were able to experiment. They were able to create music not restricted by race or genre. It was in King Records and similar spaces, where making music (and money) was prioritized over cultural taboos, that Rock’n’Roll was born.