Ahmet Ertegun didn’t invent soul music, but he was present at the birth, as a midwife. And he remained one of the biggest fans and supporters of R&B and its offshoots his whole life. Fittingly, the music mogul, who died last night at 83, spent his last healthy day at a Rolling Stones concert. (On that October day, he suffered a head injury in a fall backstage and had been hospitalized ever since.) The founder of Atlantic Records, Ertegun was instrumental in the careers of the Stones and countless other musicians. The label he founded in 1947 was home, at various times, to acts as diverse as the Stones, John Coltrane, Otis Redding, Eric Clapton, Bette Midler, Led Zeppelin, Roberta Flack, Genesis, Sonny & Cher, Bobby Darin, the Drifters, Wilson Pickett, LaVern Baker, Solomon Burke, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young. He helped make Aretha Franklin a star as the Queen of Soul when she moved to his label after she failed to break big with more decorous, less edgy music at Columbia.
Most important, he helped launch modern R&B, first by signing the late great Ruth Brown, and then by shepherding the early career of Ray Charles (a process depicted in the movie Ray, where Curtis Armstrong played Ertegun). Four decades later, Ertegun would help found the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (whose museum in Cleveland bears his name), but really, he was himself the Hall of Fame, the institutional memory of the music since its birth.