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Started by two Turkish brothers who loved the sounds of African American Music, the artists represented by Atlantic Records represent some of the greatest achievers in jazz, rhythm and blues, and hip hop.

History

Founded in 1947, Atlantic Records set out to bring the sounds of black musicians, most notably rhythm and blues, jazz, and early rock and roll, to a wider audience. Its founders, the Ertegun brothers, headed by Ahmet Ertegun, were actually the sons of Turkey’s first ambassador to the United States, but decided not to return to Turkey.

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Instead, they stayed on to explore the American music scene, specifically African American music.In late 1947 Atlantic Records was incorporated, and immediately threatened with a strike in 1948 that would keep many musicians from recording for a year. The company reached deep into savings to survive that first year, but by 1949 was again producing music. During this stage, the label was decidedly focused on jazz and rhythm and blues, most notably Big Joe Turner and Lead Belly.In 1952, the label signed one of the most successful jazz artists of all time, Ray Charles. Other great musicians, including such luminaries as Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin would follow.

However, the most enduring hires made by the label were often behind the scenes. Tom Dowd helped keep Atlantic on the cutting edge of technology, beginning with his push to record music in stereo, as opposed with only one microphone. Also of note is the role that Jerry Wexler played for the firm, keeping the label at the front of many artists’ minds through his publicity work.Atlantic also formed strategic partnerships with other companies, most notably Stax Records.

This allowed Atlantic access to many emerging stars, of whom Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding are perhaps the most well remembered. However, this success made the company a target for larger groups, and by 1967 Atlantic was acquired by Warner Brothers, which used many of the trademarks of Atlantic, even to this day. Following this sale, the label began to sign artists from different genres, most notably rock and roll. This allowed Atlantic to sign groups like Genesis and Led Zeppelin.

Artists

Atlantic captured much of the market share in the rhythm and blues and jazz markets, meaning that its roster in those genres is notably impressive.

  • Lead Belly was one of the company’s first hires, and his influence has been noted beyond the folk and blues music he sat out to produce. His recording of Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen is considered among the best ever produced.
  • Big Joe Turner was one of the most influential blues musicians in history, as well as someone who helped music transition into rock and roll. His Shake, Rattle, and Roll, one of the his first forays into rock, was named by Rolling Stone as the 127th best song of all time.

  • Ray Charles pioneered not only the idea of soul music, drawing on gospel and blues to create something altogether new, but also helped bridge racial divides in music. Frank Sinatra considered him a genius, while Billy Joel said that he could be more important to music than Elvis.
  • Aretha Franklin epitomizes the sound of Atlantic Records more than any other woman. Despite achieving limited success at Columbia Records, she signed on at Atlantic and sung two of the most famous songs of the label’s history, Respect and A Natural Woman.
  • Otis Redding started while working with Little Richard, but soon gained a much broader following than that of a back-up musician. His song Respect was actually created before Franklin’s version, with her’s being a response to his.

Lead Belly
Lead Belly
Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin

Lesson Summary

Atlantic Records was founded by the Ertegun brothers and directed by Ahmet Ertegun, with notable contributions in recording and management from Tom Dowd and Jerry Wexler, and a beneficial partnership with Stax Records. For the twenty years it was independent, Atlantic Records signed dozens of remarkable acts, bringing the music of African Americans to a worldwide audience. This ability to select great artists, including some truly legendary figures, was complemented by a management team that was able to innovate at the best possible moments.

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