He was born Arthur Goldberg September 5, 1917 in Greensburg, his father an Austrian-born laborer, his mother a Pittsburgher. The Goldbergs relocated to McKeesport. Hearing gospel music at a nearby black church impressed young Rupe, a 1935 graduate of McKeesport High. Moving to Los Angeles, he earned a degree in Business Administration from UCLA and worked there during World War II in shipbuilding industry. He formed his first label, Juke Box Records, in 1944. Two years later he founded Specialty.
Unlike early pioneers like Syd Nathan (King Records) or Sam Phillips (Sun) who worked on gut instinct, Rupe developed a highly methodical style of doing business, explained in a printed manual for salespeople detailing how to market Specialty releases.
Passionate about black gospel and R&B music, Rupe's highly defined standards extended to the music itself. He even bought $ 200 worth of what were known as "race records" to analyze their appeal and favored R&B with a fervent, gospel-like vocal and raw, hard-charging orchestral backing. He also insisted on quality audio on his releases and hired first-rate producers like Bumps Blackwell.
1946: "R.M. Blues" Roy Milton & His Solid Senders
1950: "Please Send Me Someone To Love" Percy Mayfield. Mayfield's brilliant and expressive lyrics have rightly earned him the title "Poet of the Blues."
Aware that R&B sold better, Rupe nonetheless admitted, "I preferred gospel to rhythm and blues."
1951: "Jesus Gave Me Water" The Soul Stirrers. (Sam Cooke, lead vocal). Cooke, also a gifted composer, gained a following in gospel before switching to pop and leaving Specialty in 1957.
Rupe offers a candid account of his ties with Sam Cooke. (2011 RRHOF interview)
1952: "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" Lloyd Price. Rupe, impressed with Fats Domino's early records, made in New Orleans, traveled there and discovered Louisiana native Price. His first hit, which appealed beyond the R&B market, paved the way for later ones like "Personality" and "Stagger Lee."
Rupe even tapped Ray Charles, a rising star at the time, to do some freelance production work including this tune by a New Orleans blues vocal-guitar master,
1954: "The Things I Used To Do" Guitar Slim. (# 1 Billboard R&B)
Rupe on discovering Little Richard. (2011 RRHOF interview)
1956: "Tutti Frutti" Little Richard Produced in New Orleans with the Dave Bartholomew band.
1957: "Bony Moronie" Larry Williams. Williams was to essentially replace Little Richard after his sudden conversation to evangelical Christianity, which lasted until 1962. The Beatles covered Williams's "Slow Down" and "preacher and refusing to sing rock (until he resumed his rock career in 1962).
Rupe ceased doing new recordings for Specialty in the early 60's, sick of the sleazier sides of the music business like payola (the practice of bribing disc jockeys to play records). He reactivated Specialty in 1970 to release classic material from his catalog before selling the label to Fantasy Records in 1991. As the videos show, Rupe in 2011, was highly engaged with clear memories of his music days.
Even while running Specialty, Rupe invested in the energy business and began turning his wealth into a flair for philanthropy through his Santa Barbara-based Arthur N. Rupe Foundation, its motto: "Creative Solutions for Societal Issues." They award three annual scholarships to graduating McKeesport High School students.
Happy belated 100th, Mr. Rupe. And from one ex-Greensburger to another, thank you.