NEW YORK (AP) ? 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, his spokesman said. He was 83.
Ertegun, a Turkish ambassador’s son, remained connected to the music scene until his last days — it was at an October 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.
“He was in a coma and expired today with his family at his bedside,” said Dr. Howard A. Riina, Ertegun’s neurosurgeon at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center.
Ertegun will be buried in a private ceremony in his native Turkey, said Bob Kaus, a spokesman for Ertegun and Atlantic Records. A memorial service will be conducted in New York after New Year’s.
Ertegun 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. It 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, part of Warner Music Group, is the home to artists including Kid Rock, James Blunt, T.I., and Missy Elliott.
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.
“My father was a diplomat who was ambassador to Switzerland, France and England before he became ambassador to the United States, and we lived in all those countries and we always had music in the house, and a lot of it was a kind of popular music, and we heard a lot of jazz,” Ertegun recalled in an interview with The Associated Press. “By the time we came to Washington, we were collecting records and we amassed a collection of some 25,000 blues and jazz records.”
Ertegun parlayed his love of music into a career when he founded Atlantic with partner Herb Abramson and a $10,000 loan. When the label started it made its name with blues-edge recordings by acts such as Ruth Brown.
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. That 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.
Black music was the backbone of the label for years. It was Atlantic, under Wexler’s production genius, that helped make Franklin the top black female singer of her day.
“We had some pop music; we had Bobby Darin … and we developed other pop artists such as Sonny and Cher and Bette Midler and so on,” said Ertegun. “But we had been most effective that set a style as purveyors of African-American music. And we were the kings of that until the arrival of Motown Records, which was long after we started.”
But once music tastes changed, Ertegun switched gears and helped bring on the British invasion in the ’60s.
“If Atlantic had restricted itself to R&B music, I have no doubt that it would be extinct today,” Wexler said.
Instead, it became even bigger.
In later years Ertegun signed Midler, Roberta Flack and ABBA. He had a gift for being able to pick out what would be a commercial smash, said the late producer Arif Mardi