Sun Records is an American independent record label founded by Sam Phillips in Memphis, Tennessee in 1952. Sun was the first company to record Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash.
Sun Records discovered and first recorded such influential musicians as Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. Presley’s recording contract was eventually sold to RCA Victor Records for $35,000 in 1955 to relieve Sun’s financial difficulties. Before those records, Sun had concentrated mainly on African-American musicians because Phillips loved rhythm and blues and wanted to bring it to a white audience. Sun record producer and engineer Jack Clement discovered and recorded Jerry Lee Lewis while Phillips was away on a trip to Florida. The original Sun Records logo was designed by John Gale Parker, Jr., a resident of Memphis and high school classmate of Phillips.
Sun was founded with the financial aid of Jim Bulliet, one of many record executives for whom Phillips had scouted artists before 1952.
Some of the recording artists at Sun were Roscoe Gordon, Rufus Thomas (who recorded solo and with his daughter Carla Thomas), Little Milton, Tex Weiss, Charlie Rich, Howlin Wolf, Bill Justis, and Conway Twitty (who at that time recorded under his real name, Harold Jenkins). In the Lovin’ Spoonful song “Nashville Cats”, John Sebastian used poetic license when he referred to Sun as the “Yellow Sun Records from Nashville”.
“Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” by Jerry Lee Lewis
There were also sixteen female recording artists whose records were released on the Sun and Phillips international label. These include Barbara Pittman and the Miller Sisters.
In 1969, Mercury Records label producer Shelby Singleton purchased the Sun label from Phillips. Singleton merged his operations into Sun International Corporation, which re-released and re-packaged compilations of Sun’s early artists in the early 1970s. It later introduced rockabilly tribute singer Jimmy “Orion” Ellis in 1980, with Orion taking on the persona of Elvis Presley.
The company remains in business as Sun Entertainment Corporation, and currently licenses its brand and classic hit recordings (many of which have appeared in CD boxed sets and other compilations) to independent reissue labels. Sun Entertainment also includes SSS International Records, Plantation Records, Amazon Records, Red Bird Records, Blue Cat Records among other labels the company acquired over the years. Its website sells collectible items and compact discs bearing the original 1950s Sun logo.
Sun Records is located in Nashville, Tennessee. It has been mainly a reissue label since the 1970s but signed country musician Julie Roberts to a recording contract in 2013.
The music of many Sun Records musicians helped lay part of the foundation of late 20th-century rock and roll and influenced many younger musicians, including the Beatles. In 2001, Paul McCartney appeared on a tribute compilation album titled Good Rockin’ Tonight: The Legacy of Sun Records. The 2008 tribute Million Dollar Quartet is based on the famous photograph of Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis grouped round Elvis Presley at the piano, the night when the four joined in an impromptu jam at Sun Records’ one-room sound studio, the “Million Dollar Quartet” of 4 December 1956.