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Industry Icon Ahmet Ertegun Dies At 83
Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun died today (Dec. 14) at New York's Weill Cornell Medical Center. He was 83. Ertegun was critically injured when he fell backstage at a Rolling Stones concertAtlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun died today (Dec. 14) at New York's Weill Cornell Medical Center. He was 83. Ertegun was critically injured when he fell backstage at a Rolling Stones concert at New York's Beacon Theatre on Oct. 29 and was reported earlier this week to have lasped into a coma.
A private funeral ceremony is being planned in Turkey, where Ertegun was born in 1923. According to Atlantic, a New York memorial will take place after the New Year.
"All of us at Atlantic Records are profoundly saddened by the loss of our founder and mentor," Atlantic chairman/CEO Craig Kallman says in a statement. "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."
Founded by Ertegun and Herb Abramson in 1947, Atlantic focused mostly on jazz and R&B on its early releases by Ruth Brown, Ray Charles and future Drifters lead singer Clyde McPhatter. When Abramson was drafted into the military in 1953, his role was filled by former Billboard reporter Jerry Wexler, then working as a music publisher. Wexler and Ertegun, with the help of house producer Tom Dowd, produced the hits "Tweedlee Dee" for LaVern Baker and "Shake Rattle and Roll" for Joe Turner. Abramson returned in 1955, but Wexler remained as Ertegun's righthand man, and Abramson was put in charge of a subsidiary called Atco.
Ertegun's brother Nesuhi was brought on to oversee Atlantic's jazz catalog, producing artists such as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Charles Mingus. During the '60s, Atlantic/Atco changed with the times and signed Aretha Franklin, Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Cream, Yes and Led Zeppelin. The '70s saw a diversification into more urban music, with signings of the Spinners, Roberta Flack and Chic, whose 1978 hit "Le Freak" still stands as one of the label's most successful chart singles.
The era also saw the signing of a number of successful bands from abroad, including Rush, ABBA, Genesis and Foreigner. Ertegun even wooed the Rolling Stones to Atlantic by giving the group its own imprint, Rolling Stones Records. In the '80s, Atlantic experimented with the mainstream pop of the time by signing teenager Debbie Gibson, Julian Lennon, INXS, Bette Midler and the vocal group Manhattan Transfer. In the past decade, the label has found success with Hootie & Blowfish, Jewel, matchbox 20, Kid Rock and James Blunt.
Although the label was acquired by Warner Bros.-Seven Arts in 1967, Ertegun retained creative control for decades more. He was still closely associated with the label through mentoring the current management team and in the corporate ranks of the Warner Music Group at the time of his death.
"Yes, the business has changed," Ertegun told Billboard in January 1998. "We're expected to do 15% better than the previous year, every year, and entertainment is not the kind of business where you can predict any outcome. So we can budget that we're going to do 15% or 20% better than last year, but it all depends on how well the records come out. And we have very little control any more over that, because we are not producing the records; we're just signing up the talent."