Art Rupe, who brought Rhythm and Blues to the mainstream, dies at 104
After selling his stake in Atlas for $600, Mr. Rupe formed his own company, Juke Box Records, in 1944. “I called it Juke Box because the jukebox was the way records were plugged in then.” , he told Arnold Shaw. “If you had a record in the cards, it was like putting it in the best stations today.”
Mr. Rupe was methodical. He bought $200 worth of racing records and, stopwatch in hand, began analyzing musical structure, tempo, and even titles to identify common characteristics of top-selling releases. Since the word “boogie” appeared in a disproportionate number of hit songs, Juke Box’s first record, an instrumental by the Sepia Tones, was given the title “Boogie No. 1”. It sold a more than respectable 70,000 copies, and Mr. Rupe was on his way.
Jump-blues singer Roy Milton and his band, the Solid Senders, gave Juke Box its first big hit: “RM Blues,” released in 1945, which reportedly sold a million copies. Mr. Milton went on to score nearly 20 Top 10 R&B hits after following Mr. Rupe to Specialty, which he founded the following year after breaking up with his Juke Box partners.
In 1950, pianist and bandleader Joe Liggins gave Specialty his first No. 1 hit, “Pink Champagne,” which became the year’s best-selling R&B record. Percy Mayfield, a relaxed and upbeat singer and songwriter who would later contribute “Hit the Road, Jack” and other songs to Ray Charles’ repertoire, topped the charts a year later with “Please Send Me Someone to Love”. Guitar Slim gave the label another No. 1 hit in 1954 with “The Things That I Used to Do”, one of the first records to put the electric guitar front and center.
“The Specialty was a bit like the Blue Note label in jazz,” said singer and music historian Billy Vera, who produced “The Specialty Story,” a box set of the label’s best sides released in 1994, and has wrote “Rip It Up: The Specialty Records Story,” published in 2019. very proud and anxious to make quality records with quality musicians.