Ahmet Ertegun was a genius at popular music. One of the co-founders of Atlantic Records, he is profiled in “American Masters: Atlantic Records: The House That Ahmet Built.”
Narrated by Bette Midler, who was discovered by Ertegun performing at a convention, the program traces Ertegun from his birth in Istanbul, Turkey, to his world travels as the son of a Turkish diplomat. When he and his brother moved to Washington, D.C., with his father, they were finally able to satisfy their love of American jazz.
He founded Atlantic Records with Herb Abramson in 1947, and by the 1950s, the label was a major source of new rhythm and blues music, including Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Wilson Pickett. Eventually Atlantic would branch out into rock ‘n’ roll (Rolling Stones, Cream and Led Zepplin), pop (Bobby Darin, The Manhattan Transfer and Midler) and rap-rock (Kid Rock). The label now has such hitmakers as Rob Thomas and Jewel on the label.
A charming man and a great storyteller, “The House That Ahmet Built” allows Ertegun to sit down and remember stories with some of the biggest artists on the label. Mick Jagger reminds him of the time that the Stones had finished a concert and had agreed to sign with Atlantic and was telling this to Ertegun, only to have the record mogul fall asleep. Chagrined, Ertegun admits loud music would often make him sleepy.
Looking at Midler’s face as she shares her own stories with Ertegun, it’s easy to see that this music mogul was also father, uncle and best friend to his artists. His legacy, he says in the documentary, is that he hopes he contributed to raising the dignity of black music. Having died in December at 83 years old, “The House That Ahmet Built” is a loving memoriam.
“The House That Ahmet Built” airs at 9 p.m. Wednesday on KPBS/Channel 15.