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Entertainment World Mourns Music Pioneer, Record Company Founder 


The entertainment world has lost a pioneer and founder of one of the most-important record companies in music history. VOA's Ed Kowalski tells us more about the life and career of Ahmet Ertegun, who died in New York Thursday, Dec. 14.

You may not recognize the name, but you've certainly heard the result of his work. As the founder of Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun shaped the careers of R&B legends Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and others.

Ertegun was the son of Turkish diplomats. His love of music began in 1932, when nine-year-old Ahmet was taken by his older brother Nesuhi to a London performance of the Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway orchestras. It fired a passion that remained with Ertegun for the rest of his life.

In 1947, Ertegun borrowed $10,000 from the family dentist, and started Atlantic Records in New York City. Within a few years, Atlantic Records had developed a signature sound that mixed aspects of Ertegun's favorite musical genres; blues, jazz, swing and mambo given sophisticated rhythms and arrangements.

When Nesuhi Ertegun joined Atlantic Records in 1956, the label expanded into jazz, signing some of the emerging artists of the era: John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, and The Modern Jazz Quartet.

With the movement of rhythm and blues into the pop mainstream in the mid-1960s, Atlantic Records became a leader in developing soul music artists, including Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett. Ahmet Ertegun did not restrict the Atlantic Records roster to R&B performers.

In the late-1960s, Ertegun signed a British blues/rock band, and introduced Led Zeppelin to U.S. audiences. The company later became the home for recordings by The Rolling Stones, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and Yes. Ertegun was not flawless in his talent searches. He missed chances to sign Elvis Presley and The Beatles.

Musical historians would note that Atlantic Records was culturally-diverse. Ertegun was a Muslim Turk. Many of his partners were Jewish. Most of the company's performers were black.

Ertegun remained with Atlantic Records after he, his brother and partners sold the company to Warner Brothers-Seven Arts in 1967, for $17 million. The label was sold to the Kinney Corporation conglomerate two years later. Ertegun was also one of the forces behind the establishment of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio.

Ahmet Ertegun was backstage at a Rolling Stones concert in New York on October 29 to mark the 60th birthday of former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Ertegun fell, suffering a brain injury. He had been in a coma until his death Thursday. He was 83.

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