Don D. Robey
was born in 1903 in the heart of Houston's black business and residential district. He
dropped out of high school to become a professional gambler. After getting married and
having a son, he started a taxicab business. One of Robey's passions was music and he
began promoting ballroom dances. In the late 1930s, Robey left Houston for 3 years to go
to Los Angeles where he operated a night club called the Harlem Grill. He returned to
Houston and in 1945 and founded a night club called the Bronze Peacock Dinner Club. The
club featured some of the top Jazz bands and orchestras of the day and was a big success.
His love for music also led him to open a record store. In 1947 he went into talent management. His first client was Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, a 23 year old singer- guitarist. Sometime in 1949, Robey started Peacock Records, named after his night club. Robey recorded six songs by Brown and they became the first 3 issues on Peacock. Robey built up an impressive talent roster, including Memphis Slim, Marie Adams, Floyd Dixon and Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton (who in 1953 recorded "Hound Dog", a very successful R&B record that was later covered by Elvis Presley).
Peacock also had a gospel music division, one of the most prestigious in the country. The label had an impressive number of important gospel acts, including the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Sensational Nightingales and the Mighty Clouds of Joy. The gospel album releases on Peacock far exceed the issues on any of the other labels. A second gospel record label, Song Bird, was formed in late 1963 or early 1964.
Duke Records was formed in 1952 by David J. Mattis and Bill Fitzgerald in Memphis, Tennessee. Duke and Peacock were combined in a partnership in August 1952. The most successful artists in the Duke lineup were Johnny Ace and Roscoe Gordon. In April 1953, Don Robey obtained full control of both labels and both were headquartered at the Bronze Peacock club at 2809 Erastus Street in Houston. Irving Marcus and Dave Clark were the sales and promotion representatives. Producers included Johnny Otis, Bill Harvey, Don Robey and Joe Scott.
The Back Beat subsidiary was formed in 1957. In the 1960s, Back Beat became a soul music label with album issues by Joe Hinton, O.V. Wright, and Carl Carlton. Duke Records in the 1960s had hits by Bobby "Blue" Bland and Junior Parker.
Don Robey sold Duke/Peacock to ABC-Dunhill on May 23, 1973, but stayed on, as a consultant with ABC overseeing the release of catalog material. Don Robey died on June 16, 1975.
We would appreciate any additions or corrections to this discography. Just send them to us via e-mail. Both Sides Now Publications is an information web page. We are not a catalog, nor can we provide the records listed below. We have no association with Don Robey's labels. Should you be interested in acquiring albums listed in this discography (which are all out of print), we suggest you see our Frequently Asked Questions page and follow the instructions found there. This story and discography are copyright 1997 by Mike Callahan.