The Cincinnati Music Festival is referred to as “the granddaddy of them all”. It is one of the oldest running music festivals in North America. Originally called the Ohio Valley Jazz Festival, the event was founded in 1962 by Dino Santangelo. The festival has been held at various sites, including the Carthage Fairgrounds and Hamilton County Fairgrounds. The event was predicated on a pure jazz format. The early years of the Festival were met with international acclaim. It featured renowned artists such as Miles Davis (master trumpeter), Grover Washington Jr., George Benson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and The Spinners.
The Festival soared in popularity and the public demanded more. The event promoters Dino Santangelo of Cincinnati, and his partner, J. Lee Freidman of Atlanta, GA, decided to meet the public’s appetite for quality live entertainment and to give them what they wanted – more! Along with the sponsorship and financial support of the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co, the festival catapulted into a multi-city event.
In June 1979, South Shore Travel [formerly known as Gentlemen Plus Tours] was the very first organization from Chicago to take multi-bus concert enthusiasts on the road, to events such as the Kool Jazz Festival in Atlanta, GA., and the Super Dome in New Orleans, LA. The event was held at the former Atlanta Braves Stadium and featured: The Gap Band, Chaka Khan & Rufus, The O’ Jays, Sister Sledge, B.B King, and Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland. Headlining on Saturday night, was Kool & The Gang, Peaches & Herb, Chic, Ray, Goodman & Brown, along with Dionne Warwick. Some of you old-timers may recall the travel agency we collaborated with at the time was the [now defunct] Trains, Boats & Planes Travel Agency. Big name headliners included, The Isley Brothers, The Spinners, Johnny Taylor, The Manhattans, Aretha Franklin, Peabo Bryson, Cameo, and The Jones Girls. The Festival continued on into the summer of 1980, to play in the city of its birth – Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium. The Cincinnati line-up continued to maintain its original jazz genre, by featuring jazz greats such as Jimmy Smith, Herbie Mann, Nate Adderly, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, and Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers. The Kool Jazz Festival went on to play in July 1981, for a 4-year stint at the old Milwaukee County Stadium, but was discontinued after posting dismal attendance numbers.
Over the years, as a result of a number of factors, the event has evolved from that of a musical genre of pure jazz to one predicated by the lyrics of rhythm & blues. The lead sponsor of the event has also evolved from Kool to Coors, from K-Mart to Macy’s, and now to its current sponsor, Proctor & Gamble.
The Cincinnati Music Festival is now held at the 19-year old Paul Brown Stadium [home of the Cincinnati Bengals] in this modern – state of the art venue.