We received the sad news this week that Miriam Bienstock, one of the co-founders of Atlantic Records, passed away in New York City last Friday at the age of 92. Alongside her fellow co-founders – Ahmet Ertegun and Herb Abramson, Miriam's then-husband – it was a shared love of jazz that drew them together to start Atlantic in 1947. While Ahmet and Herb were signing artists, Miriam was running the business side and was instrumental in the label's survival in its early days.
By all accounts, she was a force to be reckoned with – smart, tenacious, and fierce when necessary. As Ahmet said, "Miriam was an important person in keeping discipline at Atlantic, keeping everything on the up and up. She's unheralded, unrecognized, but she ran the office, and if we hadn't had her in those developing years, the company would have folded." As Ahmet also pointed out, she had great taste in music, and was the first person to tell him about Ray Charles, leading to one of Atlantic's historic signings.
While Miriam denied being a pioneer, the fact is that in an era when very few women were in executive positions, she paved the way for a whole generation of women in our industry. In a Billboard issue celebrating Atlantic's tenth anniversary, she was featured in an article headlined "Atlantic's 'Money Man' Is A Woman," and that was news in the late-1950s. In 1964, when she sold her shares and left the company, she was head of Atlantic's publishing business, oversaw manufacturing, and was the liaison with foreign affiliates.
In 1957, she married noted music publisher Freddy Bienstock, who was in charge of finding songs for Elvis Presley. Upon leaving Atlantic, Miriam played an important role in helping her husband launch Carlin Music. Freddy later purchased Chappell Music, which he sold to Time Warner in 1988 to create Warner/Chappell Music. Miriam went on to become a theatre producer, most recently investing in the Tony Award-winning Broadway production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.
Reflecting back on her years at Atlantic, Miriam once said, "We had an aura that belonged all to ourselves; we were not like the other record companies. I don't want to use the word 'class,' but that's really what it was. And you can hear the records are like that, too."
Please join us in offering our deepest condolences to Miriam's family and friends. She was one-of-a-kind and will be greatly missed.
Craig and Julie
Read more on the passing of Bienstock here.