From Turkey to Woodstock
Monday, April 23, 2007
One of the most influential figures of American music in the last 60 years was a Turkish-born Muslim, an ambassador’s privileged son who fell head over heels for what he called “black music and its white imitations.”
Ahmet Ertegun died in December of brain injuries he suffered after slipping and falling backstage at a Rolling Stones concert in New York City. In the upcoming PBS documentary “Atlantic Records: The House That Ahmet Built,” narrator Bette Midler suggests the circumstances were less accident than fate.
As a songwriter, producer and co-founder of Atlantic Records, as a visionary who helped shepherd the success of acts ranging from Ray Charles to Crosby, Stills, Nash and sometimes Young, from Solomon Burke to Cream, from Bobby Darin to Aretha Franklin, Ertegun was around music most of his life and, seemingly, in death.
Born in Istanbul in 1923, Ertegun was the scion of Munir Ertegun, a Turkish ambassador to the U.S. who brought Ahmet and his older brother, Nesuhi, to live in Washington, D.C., in the mid-’30s. In D.C. and in New York City, Ahmet developed a passion for blues, jazz and early R&B that led him in the late’40s to co-found the independent label Atlantic to offer a home to black artists.
Along with Nesuhi, label co-founder Herb Abramson, producer Jerry Wexler, producer-engineer Tom Dowd, arranger Arif Mardin, and independent writer-producers Mike Leiber and Jerry Stoller, Ahmet Ertegun created a musical hothouse that included Ray Charles, Joe Turner, the Clovers, the Drifters, the Coasters and Ruth Brown.
Later, Atlantic would expand its roster to include pop and rock acts such as Bobby Darin, the Rascals, Cream, CSN&Y, Led Zeppelin, the Stones, Midler and many others over the decades.
And then there was Aretha Franklin, who figures in both “The House That Ahmet Built” and the recent book “The Label: The Story of Columbia Records” by Gary Marmorstein.
A young Aretha had been signed to Columbia, but the company never really got a grip on how to showcase her gospelly wail. It wasn’t until 1967 that Franklin came into her own after moving to Atlantic, where Ertegun et al. had the good taste to let Aretha be Aretha.
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