New York, NY (December 15, 2006)–Famed music executive Ahmet Ertegun died yesterday in Manhattan. He was 83. Ahmet founded Atlantic Records, with producer Herb Abramson, in NYC in 1947. Through Atlantic, Ertegun brought the music of so many legendary artists to the world, including John Coltrane, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones. It was at the October 29 Rolling Stones’ Beacon Theater concert, in fact, that Ertegun slipped and hit his head, sustained a brain injury, and later fell into a coma. He died in the hospital with his family by his side.
Atlantic Chairman/CEO Craig Kallman issued the following statement:
“All of us at Atlantic Records are profoundly saddened by the loss of our founder and mentor. The music community has lost a pioneer and an icon, and we have lost our father. Ahmet changed the course of modern music and culture, and he will live on through the timeless legacy of work that was created under his direction and care. Musicians loved him, because he truly loved them and spoke their language. The essence of Ahmet Ertegun is the essence of Atlantic Records. His passion for music and his devotion to the artists who make it have been at the very heart of this company for six decades. The soul of Ahmet Ertegun will forever be our guiding spirit, and as long as there is an Atlantic Records, it will be Ahmet Ertegun’s company. Our thoughts and prayers are with Ahmet’s wife, Mica, and his family during this very difficult time.”
Ertegun attended a Pro Sound News-sponsored SPARS luncheon in February of 2003 in honor of producer/engineer Tom Dowd–the engineer behind all the early Atlantic records. Pictured here at Gallagher’s Restaurant in NYC are (l-r): producer/engineer Al Schmitt, Atlantic Records original Miriam Beinstock, Ahmet Ertegun, Dana Dowd (Tom Dowd’s daughter), and producer/engineer Arif Mardin, who passed away just this past June. In the early days of Atlantic Records, Ahmet, his brother Neshui, along with Abramson, producer/engineer Tom Dowd, produced formative R&B recordings–many of them in their small Midtown Manhattan offices, which was their makeshift after-hours studio. Early success came with artists like Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, La Vern Baker, The Clovers and Ray Charles. The Erteguns were serious jazz enthusiasts. At Atlantic, Nesuhi produced albums for John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman and Les McCann. Ultimately, they brought a jazz sensibility to a lot of the early work. The combination of jazz session players on some of the New Orleans blues recordings they made–for example with Professor Longhair–created a new sound that became known as the “Atlantic sound.”
The Atlantic Sound would evolve, however, as the team, led by Ahmet, discovered and produced artists like Dusty Springfield and Aretha Franklin. Ahmet’s influence in the 60s and on rock-and-roll was huge; he reportedly heard a Led Zeppelin demo and quickly signed the band, recommended that Crosby, Stills and Nash hook up with Neil Young, brought the Rascals to America, and convinced The Rolling Stones to sign with him. Atlantic was also home to Buffalo Springfield, Cream, King Crimson, and Yes, among many other influential and commercially successful artists.
The Ertegun brothers and Wexler, sold Atlantic to Warner Brothers-Seven Arts in 1967, but Ahmet continued to make great music, and sit at the head of Atlantic until 1996, when he reduced his corporate duties but kept an office and position at Atlantic. In the last ten years, he fed his passion for music by going to concerts and clubs religiously. His last concert: Rolling Stones at the Beacon Theater…not bad!
Ertegun will be buried in a private ceremony in his native Turkey; a public memorial service will be conducted in New York early next year.