Ahmet Ertegun, music icon and Landon graduate dies
Ahmet Ertegun passed away last week after falling and hitting his head at a Rolling Stones show. He founded Atlantic Records in 1947 with a loan from his family's dentist and remained involved in the label up until his death at 83. The list of artists whom he influenced and/or recorded is fairly outrageous: The Drifters, Joe Turner, Professor Longhair, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Ray Charles, Bobby Darrin, Roberta Flack, Aretha Franklin, Dr. John, Dire Straits and The Rolling Stones. The list continues through the 70s, 80s and 90s as Atlantic became one of the great music labels of the 20th century. Ertegun was portrayed in the film Ray by Curtis Armstrong in the scene where he teaches Ray Charles a song which later became the hit, Mess Around (an accurate sequence of events). In addition to a tremendous appreciation of his work and sharing a mutual love of music, Ertegun and I have an additional connection in that we attended the same high school, Landon. What I find most inspiring about Ahmet Ertegun is that having come from a privileged background as the son of a Turkish ambassador to the U.S., he could have done virtually anything. “I had to decide whether I would go into a scholastic life or go back to Turkey in the diplomatic service, or do something else,” he said. “What I really loved was music, jazz, blues and hanging out.” And so that's what he decided to do at a time before anyone thought the music biz was cool. In the pre-civil rights movement era, he recorded musicians of all colors and organized some of the first racially-integrated concerts. By following his passion and taking a risk, Ahmet Ertegun helped define an entire industry that we now call Rock & Roll and in the process, influenced the social fabric of a country. We can all learn an incredibly valuable lesson, in this regard, from his life.