Disco was invented in Miami. Well, Hialeah to be exact, at the humble 8-track studio above Henry Stone's record distribution office at 495 SE 10th Court.
George McCrae's "Rock Your Baby," written by Harry Wayne Casey (KC of KC and The Sunshine Band) and Rick Finch was not the first disco song ever, and there were certainly underground dance clubs in New York and Chicago before it came out, but when it sold over a million copies worldwide almost over night in 1974, it birthed the global phenomenon that would dominate the decade. It was disco's first real hit, and it has gone on to sell well over 20 million physical copies around the world, a feat rarely matched by any artist. But that's just one of the thousands of albums released by Stone, a Bronx kid who has called Miami home since 1948, and who as a music distributor and manufacturer has sold hundreds of millions of records, massively influenced global popular culture, and been a confidant and friend to the greatest titans of the music industry.
Now, HistoryMiami is collecting his ephemera to preserve and document his cultural contributions for scholarly discourse and exhibition.
HistoryMiami is the great downtown museum that will take over the 55,000 square foot Miami Art Museum space when that facility moves to its new home at Bicentennial Park. Dawn Hugh is the institution's Archive manager, and John Shubin is on the museum's board. Yesterday, they visited Stone to discuss the creation of a Henry Stone Collection to document and preserve the physical evidence of his life, business, and contributions to the music industry.
Stone's TK Productions was the umbrella company for over 20 record labels like Cat, Glades, Juana, Dade, Dash, etc., with artists like KC and The Sunshine Band ("Shake Your Booty," "Get Down Tonight," "Keep It Comin Love"), Blowfly ("Rapp Dirty"), Betty Wright ("Cleanup Woman"), Little Beaver ("Party Down"), Anita Ward ("Ring My Bell"), Latimore ("Let's Straighten It Out"), Gwen McCrae ("Rockin' Chair"), Timmy Thomas ("Why Can't We Live Together"), Jimmie Bo Horne ("Spank"), Bobby Caldwell ("What You Won't Do For Love"), and many more. All the artists worked on each others' albums in a truly integrated musical environment with a house rhythm section rivaling Memphis' Booker T & The MGs.
In fact, in the 1970s, TK Productions was the largest independent record company in the world. However, Miami has never gotten its just recognition as a music city like Chicago, Philly, New Orleans, NYC, and Memphis have. But that's all about to change.
As Hugh explains, the paper trail created by business activities like building leases, tax records, contracts, correspondence, photographs, all make up the research materials from which books are written, movies are made, and scholarship generated through academic study.
"We're really trying to focus on the best of the best of the best of Miami," says John Shubin, a lawyer and one of over 20 HistoryMiami board members. As a University of Miami student he had an early rap radio show. But even he was unaware that some of the earliest hip hop records, like The Sugar Hill Gang's "Rappers Delight," and pre "The Message" cuts by Grandmaster Flash, were actually physically pressed to vinyl by Stone at his manufacturing plant in Hialeah. Furthermore, Stone actually provided the seed money for the creation of Joe & Sylvia Robinson's Sugar Hill Records label.
Hugh is 30 years into her career as a professional archivist, but as a youth in Jamaica she used to love TK Disco records. That serves as testament to Stone's distribution prowess, the means by which he was able to get his product into the hands of people in all corners of the globe. "We are here to preserve history," she says.
Disco is only one of the many highlights in Stone's career. He is also responsible for the dance crazes called "The Twist," "The Cabbage Patch," and "Freestyle." He has worked closely with record execs like Leonard Chess, Ahmet Ertegun, Jerry Wexler, and Syd Nathan. He got James Brown his first jet. He broke Sam Cooke's gospel and R&B output. He recorded BB King for Modern Records. He was on Mel Torme's first recording session. He and TK Records VP Steve Alaimo discovered Sam&Dave. He was the second person to record Ray Charles. He made the first million-selling R&B pop crossover record, and it was before the civil rights movement. He broke techno music in America. He helped invent Miami Bass. The list goes on and on.
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On June 3, he will be 92 years old, and he is still recording and releasing new music ("Latimore Remembers Ray Charles"). He's currently working on a movie about his life. He recently released an eBook. He is the last of the original independent record men still breathing. He is the greatest of all time. And he represents Miami to the fullest.
Look out for the Henry Stone Collection at HistoryMiami. Like most things associated with Stone, it's going to be a hit.