While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


James Head

Listen to this artist

OUSLEY, CURTIS [KING CURTIS] (1934–1971). Curtis Ousley, better known as "King Curtis," saxophonist and guitarist, was born in Fort Worth on February 7, 1934. Ousley was raised in Mansfield by adoptive parents. As a child, he was fascinated by the music of saxophonists Lester Young and Louis Jordan, which he heard regularly on the radio. Hoping to encourage their son's musical interests, Curtis's parents gave him a saxophone when he was twelve. He honed his skills playing with his high school band and with a pop band he formed.

He moved to New York City in 1952 and subsequently played with Chuck Willis, Clyde McPhatter, The Coasters, the Alan Freed Band, and other groups. Throughout the 1950s he toured the United States and Europe with Lionel Hampton's band. During that time, Curtis mastered the guitar and learned to arrange music. He stopped touring in the early 1960s, moved back to New York, and soon became one of the best-known saxophone players of the 1960s. He played backup for numerous singers, including Bobby Darin, Andy Williams, Sam Cooke, Connie Francis, Nat King Cole, the Coasters, and Buddy Holly.

Curtis formed his own group, the Noble Knights, in the early 1960s. He later changed their name to the King Pins. The group signed with Enjoy Records and recorded a Number 1 R&B single, "Soul Twist," in 1962. In the 1960s, fifteen of Curtis's recordings made the pop charts. He recorded for Prestige and Capitol Records and signed with the Atco label in 1965. He stayed with that label for the remainder of his career, making numerous records, including King Curtis Plays the Great Memphis Hits, That Lovin' Feeling, and King Size Soul. A couple of his songs, "Memphis Soul Stew" and "Ode to Billie Joe," recorded in 1967, were huge hits. Curtis had even more success in the late 1960s, when soul music became more popular. His record sales soared, and he became highly sought after for concerts and music festivals around the country and in Europe. He was at the apex of his career—producing Freddie King, directing Aretha Franklin, and working on a John Lennon album—when he was fatally stabbed outside his New York City apartment. He died from the wounds on August 14, 1971. He was survived by a son, Curtis, Jr. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.


Ed Decker, ed., Contemporary Musicians (Detroit: Gale Research, 1995). Michael Erlewine, et al., eds., AMG All Music Guide to the Blues: The Experts' Guide to the Best Blues Recordings (San Francisco: Miller Freeman, 1999). H. Wiley Hitchcock and Stanley Sadie, eds., The New Grove Dictionary of American Music (New York: Macmillan, 1986). Barry Kernfeld, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (London: Macmillan, 1988). Irwin Stambler, Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock and Soul (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1977).

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, James Head, "OUSLEY, CURTIS [KING CURTIS]," accessed May 26, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fou04.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on August 16, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...