Memphis-born record mogul Joe Bihari dies at 88

Joe Bihari, left, with B.B. King

Ace Records

Joe Bihari, left, with B.B. King

News of the death of Memphis-born record mogul Joe Bihari was confirmed this week. Mr. Bihari, who along with his brothers Jules and Saul, founded Modern Records in the 1940s, died on Nov. 28. He was 88.

The children of Jewish-Hungarian immigrants, Mr. Bihari and his siblings were jukebox merchants who transitioned into the record business. They would help launch the careers of several notable African-American blues and R&B artists, including Elmore James, John Lee Hooker, and most significantly, B.B. King.

Mr. Bihari was raised primarily in the New Orleans, and spent most of his adult life in Los Angeles, but had longstanding ties to the Bluff City, working with Sam Phillips, who recorded and leased numerous records to Modern during the early years of his Memphis Recording Service.

In 1951, Mr. Bihari came to Memphis, set up a makeshift studio at a “colored” YMCA, and with the help of his local talent scout Ike Turner on piano, recorded several important sides from King, including his first hit, “3 O’Clock Blues.” In later years, King would admonish Modern and Bihari for adding his name as co-writer on a number of songs, claiming credit and royalties that weren’t deserved.

Joe Mr. Bihari and his brothers were inducted in the Blues Music Hall of Fame in 2006.

Here’s a clip of King’s seminal “3 O’clock Blues” recorded by Mr. Bihari.

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