Recording Artists, Labels, Producers
From left: Ernie Young, Ted Jarrett, and Ted Adams at Ernie’s Record Mart, 1955. Photo by Elmer Williams.
Many Nashville R&B acts grew up in or near the city itself. Gene Allison (seen left, 1950s), for instance, previously sang in local gospel groups, and the Avons (Beverly and Francesca Bard and Paula Hester) joined together while attending Nashville’s Pearl High School. Some, such as Marion James, remained active in Nashville music into the twenty-first century.
Founded in 1949, Tennessee Records was among Nashville’s first independent record labels. The company recorded Nashville R&B stalwarts such as Christine Kittrell and Louis Brooks & His Hi-Toppers.
Formed at the Tennessee State Penitentiary in Nashville, the Prisonaires scored an unlikely 1953 hit when they were permitted to travel to Memphis to record “Just Walkin’ in the Rain” for Sun Records. Tennessee governor Frank Clement frequently invited the group to perform at official functions as part of his campaign for prison reform.
It took committed producers to capture Nashville’s R&B talent on record. Ted Jarrett, a Nashville native, and Bob Holmes, a Tennessee State University alumnus from Memphis, both wrote songs and produced records prolifically.
In 1951-52 , Ernie’s Record Mart owner Ernie Young launched the Nashboro and Excello record labels. Nashboro would become a prolific gospel imprint with groups such as the Skylarks, while Excello would release R&B classics such as Arthur Gunter’s 1954 “Baby Let’s Play House,” which Elvis Presley covered.
SOUND STAGE 7
Established in 1963, Sound Stage 7 became Nashville’s leading R&B label after Excello when John Richbourg of WLAC began contributing as a producer. The label roster ranged from Joe Simon to Ivory Joe Hunter to the Nashville quartet the Valentines.
Songwriters Buzz Cason (“Everlasting Love”) and Bobby Russell (“Honey”) started Elf Records in Nashville and scored an R&B classic with Clifford Curry’s 1967 beach favorite, “She Shot a Hole in My Soul.”