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Sun Records Definition


Sun Records logo

Sun Records logo

Photo courtesy Sun Entertainment Corp.

Sun Records: Best known as the birthplace of rockabilly and Elvis Presley's initial home on vinyl, the early history of Sun Records is inextricably tied to the blues, and the Memphis, Tennessee label recorded vital sides by artists like Howlin' Wolf and Frank Frost.

A former radio DJ and engineer, Phillips opened his Memphis Recording Service studio in 1950, recording masters by artists like Howlin' Wolf and B.B. King that he would then lease to labels like Chess Records or the Bihari brothers' label RPM. Phillips launched Sun Records in 1952 to release his own records, enjoying moderate success with records by Rufus Thomas, James Cotton, Little Milton, and Junior Parker.

In 1954, Sun signed a young singer named Elvis Presley to the label. Sun released several Presley singles circa 1954-55, although none were even moderate hits. Sensing that he had a breakthrough artist on his hands, Phillips successfully sold Presley's recording contract to RCA Records for a reported $35,000 as a way to raise capital for the cash-poor label.

Sun Records would subsequently become a major player in the rockabilly field, scoring a national hit with Carl Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes," and having success with artists like Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, and Charlie Rich. Through the years, Sun released material in the blues, rock, country, and gospel genres.

Phillips sold Sun Records to Nashville producer Shelby Singleton in 1969, focusing instead on his real estate and other business endeavors. Singleton would exploit the Sun catalog by licensing material to European labels like Bear Family and Charley Records, and by selling Sun Records memorabilia to the label's many fans. Although Phillips died in 2003, the Sun Studios at 706 Union Street in Memphis remains open for musicians and visitors looking to see a piece of history.

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