Miriam Bienstock, who helped found Atlantic Records with her then-husband Herb Abramson and Ahmet Ertegun and became a theater investor later in life, died March 21 at her home in New York City. She was 92.
Bienstock managed production and finances for the label from its start in 1947 when it opened in New York as an R&B label with artists such as Ruth Brown, Big Joe Turner and Ray Charles. As Atlantic’s business manager, she handled payments to artists and record production and negotiated foreign agreements.
When Abramson went into the military in 1953, Ertegun brought in his brother Nesuhi, and Jerry Wexler as executives. Upon his return, Abramson — who was put in charge of Atco — and Bienstock divorced and were bought out.
She stayed with the company as vice president of the label and president of its music publishing arm Progressive Music beginning in 1958. A year earlier, she married music publisher Freddy Bienstock, an executive at Hill & Range who became Elvis Presley’s top song scout. He would later purchase Hill & Range and Chappell Music and, after selling them to Time Warner, form Carlin America
In a 1997 Billboard interview, Ahmet Ertegun said “I must tell you, Miriam was an important person in keeping discipline at Atlantic Records, and keeping everything on the up-and-up. She ran the office, and none of us was inclined to run the office. She is unheralded, unrecognized, but if we hadn’t had her in those developing years, the company would have folded. She also had very good taste in music. For example, she’s the one who first played me Ray Charles records, the Swing Time records,” a reference to the records Charles made between 1949 and 1952 before signing with Atlantic .
Born Miriam Kahan in Brooklyn, N.Y., Bienstock attended Erasmus Hall High School and graduated from Brooklyn College. She left Atlantic in 1964 and eventually shifted her focus to theater. She produced the musical “Elvis” in 1978 in London and “Strider,” which ran on Broadway for 214 performances in 1979 and 1980.
Most recently, she was an investor in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, which won two Tony Awards last year.
In addition to her son, Bienstock’s survivors include a daughter, Caroline Bienstock, president and CEO of Carlin America, and eight grandchildren. Her husband, Freddy Bienstock, died in 2009.