1952 - 1973
Duke Records was an American record label, started in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1952 by David James Mattis (WDIA program director and DJ) and Bill Fitzgerald, owners of Tri-State Recording Company. Their first release was Roscoe Gordon singing "Hey Fat Girl", issued on Duke R-1, later amended to R-101.
After forming a partnership with Mattis in the summer of 1952, Don Robey (founder of Houston's Peacock Records) took control of Duke. Both labels then headquartered at his Bronze Peacock club at 2809 Erastus Street in Houston, focusing on R&B and gospel music. Robey started a subsidiary, Back Beat Records, in 1957 and this later specialised in soul music, along with Sure Shot Records, whilst Peacock specialised in gospel recordings.
Duke's leading artist was Bobby 'Blue' Bland who stayed with the label for many years until its demise, mostly recording successfully with arranger/band leader Joe Scott. Johnny Ace was a major R&B artist in the early years of the label before his untimely death at a young age, with a string of R&B top 10 hits including three that went to #1. Junior Parker was another important presence on Duke, recording a long string of singles for the label between 1953 and 1966, scoring seven top-twenty Billboard hits during his tenure.
Robey sold his labels to ABC Dunhill Records on 23 May 1973. The Duke labels were soon closed down with the imprints retained by ABC in their catalog, with only Bobby Bland being retained by the new parent label.