NEW YORK – Ahmet Ertegun, who helped define American music as the founder of Atlantic Records, a label that popularized the gritty R&B of Ray Charles, the classic soul of Aretha Franklin and the British rock of the Rolling Stones, died Thursday at 83, his spokesman said.
Ertegun remained connected to the music scene until his last days – it was at an Oct. 29 concert by the Rolling Stones at the Beacon Theatre in New York where Ertegun fell, suffered a head injury and was hospitalized. He later slipped into a coma.
Ertegun, a Turkish ambassador’s son, started collecting records for fun but would later became one of the music industry’s most powerful figures with Atlantic, which he founded in 1947.
The label first made its name with rhythm and blues by Charles and Big Joe Turner, but later diversified, making Franklin the Queen of Soul as well as carrying the banner of British rock (with the Rolling Stones, Cream, Led Zeppelin) and American pop (with Sonny and Cher, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and others).
Today, the company is part of Warner Music Group.
Ertegun’s love of music began with jazz, back when he and his late brother Nesuhi (an esteemed producer of such jazz acts as Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman) used to hang around with Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington in the clubs of Washington, D.C.
Despite his privileged background, which included attending prep school and socializing with Washington’s elite, Ertegun was able to mix with all kinds of people – an attribute that made him not just a marketer of black music, but a part of it, said Jerry Wexler.
“The transition between these two worlds is one of Ahmet’s most distinguishing characteristics,” Wexler said.