Reference Entry

Peacock Records.

Timothy J. O'Brien

in Encyclopedia of African American History, 1896 to the Present: From the Age of Segregation to the Twenty-first Century

Published in print January 2009 | ISBN: 9780195167795
Peacock Records.

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Peacock Records was founded by the Houston entrepreneur Don Deadric Robey in 1949. Robey founded his entertainment empire in 1945 when he opened the upscale Bronze Peacock Dinner Club. The club hosted all the top entertainers of the day including Louis Jordan, Lionel Hampton, T-Bone Walker, and Ruth Brown. Then he opened a record store, at 4104 Lyons Avenue in Houston's Fifth Ward, that became the headquarters for his Buffalo Booking Agency and Peacock Records ventures. An impromptu performance by Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown so impressed Robey that he flew him to Los Angeles to record for the Aladdin label. After Brown's recordings failed Robey started Peacock Records. At the time black-owned record companies were a rarity: from 1940 through 1959, of about four thousand companies, fewer than thirty-six have been identified as black owned.In 1948 or 1949 Robey recorded six sides with Clarence Brown that became the first sessions for his Peacock label. Robey started a business relationship with William Holford, who owned the first full-service sound studio in Houston, the Audio Company of America. The trombonist Al Grey remembered that Robey would pay his recording sidemen off in cash in the studio. By February 1950 Peacock records was on its way with six records reviewed in the music trade magazine Billboard. The coverage marked the beginning of national exposure for Peacock, which had only seen regional hits thus far. The blues pianist Floyd Dixon's “Sad Journey Blues” was Peacock's first entry on the Billboard Music Charts. Robey hired Irving Marcus as sales manager in late 1950, marking the turning point in Peacock's ascent to the national level. By 1952 Peacock had bought a pressing plant in Houston, and Robey proclaimed in a Billboard article that sales had shot up 300 percent in the prior year. The year 1952 also saw Peacock's first rhythm-and-blues chart hits, when Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton's “Let Your Tears Fall, Baby” hit number five on the Cash Box regional chart and Marie Adams's “I'm Gonna Play the Honky Tonks” climbed two different Billboard charts. In 1952 Peacock formed a partnership with the white-owned Duke record label. Less than a year later Robey bought out Duke's share. With Peacock's resources Johnny Ace's Duke recording “My Song,” became a national hit but it was Thornton's 1953 hit recording of “Hound Dog” that secured Peacock's place as a major independent label.On the gospel side Peacock released chart-topping records by the Five Blind Boys and the Dixie Hummingbirds, and by 1960 had signed the Mighty Clouds of Joy. Robey's company played a major role in shaping the sound of recorded gospel by releasing some of the finest gospel quartet and solo records in the field. In still another genre Robey's subsidiary label Back Beat release of “Treat Her Right” by the white artist Roy Head was the company's highest charting pop entry.Robey's Peacock Records paved the way for 1960s black entrepreneurs like Berry Gordy Jr. of Motown records. In addition to his company's copyrights on over twenty-seven hundred songs, he was also instrumental in starting the careers of Bobby “Blue” Bland, Thornton, Junior Parker, The Original Five Blind Boys, O. V. Wright, and many others. The sale of Duke-Peacock to the ABC Dunhill company in 1973 was the final chapter in its storied history.

Reference Entry.  572 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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