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ROBEY, DON DEADRIC

ROBEY, DON DEADRIC (1903–1975). Don Deadric Robey, music entrepreneur, was born on November 1, 1903, in Houston. A life-long passion for music led Robey into promotional work for ballroom dances in the Houston area. In the late 1930s he spent three years in Los Angeles, where he operated a nightclub called the Harlem Grill. After returning to Houston, he opened the famous Bronze Peacock Dinner Club in 1945. He booked top jazz bands and orchestras to play the club, which became a huge success.

Building from this venture, with his assistant Evelyn Johnson, Robey opened record stores and started Buffalo Booking Agency a talent-management agency, by 1950. The first client he had signed was a twenty-three-year-old singer and guitarist named Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. Dissatisfied with the way Aladdin Records was handling Brown, Robey decided to start his own record company in 1949; he named it Peacock Records after his nightclub. Over the years Robey added an impressive array of talent to his label, with artists including Memphis Slim, Marie Adams, Floyd Dixon, and Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thorntonqv, whose 1953 recording of "Hound Dog" was later imitated by Elvis Presley. Robey added a gospelqv division to Peacock Records with artists such as the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Sensational Nightingales, and the Mighty Clouds of Joy. Peacock became one of the leading gospel labels in the United States. Robey added a second gospel label, Song Bird, in 1963–64.

In August 1952 he formed a partnership with Duke Records owners David J. Mattis and Bill Fitzgerald. Less than a year later, in April 1953, Robey gained full control over the Duke label. He closed his Bronze Peacock Club and established the headquarters of both Duke and Peacock there. His acquisition of Duke brought recording rights to artists Johnny Ace, Junior Parker, Roscoe Gordon, and Bobby "Blue" Bland. Between 1957 and 1970, Bland recorded thirty-six songs that reached the Billboard R&B charts, thus becoming Robey's most consistently successful artist. A subsidiary label, Back Beat, was formed in 1957 and became a soul-music label in the 1960s. The talent roster on Back Beat included Joe Hinton, O.V. Wright, and Carl Carlton.

At the height of his music-promotion and recording success, Robey had more than a hundred artists and groups under contract to his various labels. At his headquarters, he built an in-house studio that served largely as both a rehearsal complex and a facility for making demo recordings. He made a considerable number of his released recordings at Houston’s ACA and Gold Star studios. Although controversial because of his shrewd business practices and dealings with artists, he is credited with substantially influencing the development of Texas blues by finding and recording blues musicians. His music director, Joe Scott, helped define Texas blues through his distinctive arrangements.

Robey's business began to decline in the mid-1960s. He sold Duke-Peacock Records and the subsidiary labels to ABC–Dunhill on May 23, 1973, with the agreement that he would stay on as consultant and oversee the release of catalog materials, a position he held until his death. He was a leader in the United Negro College Fund Drive, a member of Douglass Burrell Consistory No. 56, Doric Temple No. 76, and Sanderson Commandery No. 2 K.T.; and a Century Member of the YMCA, NAACP, and Chamber of Commerce. He died of a heart attack in Houston on June 16, 1975, and was survived by his wife of fifteen years, Murphy L. Robey, three children, three sisters, and seven grandchildren. The Masonic Lodge performed graveside services for him at Paradise North Cemetery in Houston. On April 16, 2011, the Harris County Historical Commission dedicated a Texas Historical Marker to Robey’s Peacock Records at its original offices (now the Louis Robey Professional Building) on Lyons Avenue.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Andy Bradley and Roger Wood, House of Hits: The Story of Houston’s Gold Star/SugarHill Recording Studios (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010). David Edwards and Mike Callahan, “Don Robey’s Labels…” (http://www.bsnpubs.com/abc/robey.html), accessed November 16, 2011. Alan Govenar, The Early Years of Rhythm and Blues: Focus on Houston (Houston: Rice University Press, 1990). Houston Post, June 18, 1975. Rick Koster, Texas Music (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998). Robert Santelli, Big Book of the Blues: A Biographical Encyclopedia (New York: Penguin Books, 1993). Roger Wood, Down in Houston: Bayou City Blues (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003).

Ruth K. Sullivan

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Ruth K. Sullivan, "ROBEY, DON DEADRIC," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fropc), accessed October 25, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on June 14, 2012. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.