The arts can play a powerful role in uncovering and celebrating our shared history. Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park is bringing a new, uniquely Cincinnati story to our region with Cincinnati King, a new play about the legendary King Records.
Cincinnati King was designed to collect and share stories that preserve a unique part of Cincinnati's history, foster understanding, and ignite dialogue. KJ Sanchez, a new associate artist at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, compiled the play from transcripts of interviews with nearly 50 people from across the Tristate. Additional material was drawn from recordings from King Records’ artists, as well as newspaper clippings and other sources.
Sanchez says of the play: “The story of King Records is a fundamental part of the history of American music. My personal mission with this project is to continue the good work done by so many others in shining a spotlight on this important history, but also to create an event that brings all of the many groups—people who have been working for years, tirelessly, to give the King Records history its due—together, so that we can all share, connect and celebrate this incredible history as a community.”
We interviewed Blake Robison, Artistic Director of Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, to discover why this story is important to our community.
What first inspired you to commission KJ Sanchez to create Cincinnati King?
When KJ Sanchez agreed to come on board as one of the Playhouse’s new associate artists, I knew I wanted to take advantage of her talents as CEO of American Records, which crafts documentary-style theatre productions, to create a story that would celebrate Cincinnati. When I talked to others about ideas for what form that might take, the King Records story surfaced again and again.
How do you feel the story of King Records has influenced the Cincinnati community today?
Many people know that King Records changed the face of American music, by introducing legendary country, rock and rhythm, and blues artists ranging from the Stanley Brothers and Cowboy Copas to James Brown and Bootsy Collins. But the King Records story is also a story of racial integration in Cincinnati. It may be more surprising to some people to know that King Records was one of the first racially-integrated businesses in the city and one of the first integrated record companies in the country.
Why is it important to you to host this event at Washington Park?
Expanding our community outreach programs has been one of my key goals for the theatre since I became the Playhouse’s artistic director in 2012. I believe it’s important not only to bring people up to the Playhouse to see shows on our two main stages in Eden Park, but also to bring theatre to communities where people work and live, as we do each season with our Off the Hill program for families. More practically, the free readings we hosted of the first draft of Cincinnati King in the Playhouse’s Shelterhouse Theatre sold out quickly. By partnering with 3CDC and the OTR Performs series, as well as the Cincinnati Fringe Festival, we hope to share this amazing story with more people and, perhaps, to introduce new audiences to the Playhouse.
What do you hope the Cincinnati community will take away from attending Celebrating King Records?
I hope they take pride in what, for some, is a lesser-known gem of Cincinnati’s history. And I hope the event’s festival atmosphere — with pre-show music by legendary King Records drummer Philip Paul, activities for kids and food trucks — means they have a lot of fun, too!
Everyone is invited to the FREE staged concert reading of Cincinnati King, Playhouse Associate Artist KJ Sanchez’s new play about the history of Cincinnati music, racial equality, music pioneer Syd Nathan and King Records. The event is Sunday, May 31 at Washington Park as part of the OTR Performs series, and a Cincinnati Fringe Festival Special Event.
5 p.m. Food, music, and theatre activities for kids , plus a chance to explore memorabilia from King Studios
5:30 p.m. King Records’ legendary drummer Philip Paul kicks off the evening with a one-of-a-kind performance and behind-the-scenes stories.
7 p.m. Staged concert reading of Cincinnati King