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Sun Records: History & Artists

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Learn about Sun Records and how it became one of the most important labels in music history, responsible for signing acts crucial to the development of both country music and rock and roll. Then test your knowledge with a quiz!

History

Sun Records was founded by a legend in Southern music, Sam Phillips. Phillips had grown up poor in the Deep South, and fell in love with the music of African-American field hands. He recognized that this sort of music would be wildly successful if it could ever reach a white audience, and eventually started Sun Records to achieve that goal.

The company was started in 1952 in Memphis, Tennessee. It was already a city with an important music scene due to the jazz and blues clubs of Beale Street. However, the work of Sun Records would make the city even more musically vibrant. The company, while favoring those artists with strong ties to traditional black music, would sign anyone they felt had talent. This was in strong contrast to many other labels of the time, which were still segregated. However, for Sun Records, it proved to be a smart business decision.

The company thrived almost immediately, and became a formidable force in Southern Music for much of the next two decades. Ultimately, in 1969 it was bought by the owner of Mercury Records, who chose to combine the two labels under the company Sun Entertainment Company, drawing on the appeal of Sun Records' name. Also during this time, the headquarters of the company would move to Nashville, a city no less important to the growing musical scene of the time. Since the 1970s, Sun has largely reissued albums, as well as licensed their work to other companies, only occasionally signing new artists.

Sun Studios
Sun Studios

Artists

Sun Records represented a veritable 'who's who' of the Southern music scene, which encompassed not only the Rhythm and Blues that Phillips so loved, but also jazz and early forms of both country and rock and roll.

Elvis

Easily the most famous artist to sign to Sun Records was Elvis Presley, who walked into the studio as a teenager with just enough money to record a demo. Later, he would work with Sun Records for much of his early career, most notably on That's All Right.

Elvis is among the most famous artists signed by Sun Records
Elvis

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