Ahmet Ertegun and the Atlantic idea

The Atlantic Monthly‘s 150th Anniversary issue features a series of short essays on “The Future of the American Idea” by a wide variety of luminaries from various fields, from William F. Buckley, Jr. to Stan Lee. Each essay centers on a specific theme — Bernard Lewis on Second Acts, John Updike on The Individual, Arianna Huffington on The Pursuit of Happiness, and so on — so it’s really a set of essays on American ideas. Yet among the ideas tackled here, an obvious omission is choice — which closely pertains an event happening next month.

On December 10, Led Zeppelin will play their first concert in over two decades. Led Zeppelin are British and the concert will be in London, so what does this have to do with any American idea? Plenty. The show is a benefit for a charity scholarship fund established by Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun, who was passed away last year and was, very much, an American by choice.

The son of a Turkish ambassador, young Ahmet grew up in then-segregated Washington, D.C., during the 1940s. During those years, he would look for jazz and blues records at shops in the city’s black neighborhoods, and listen to live acts at clubs there. Staying in the U.S., he founded the Atlantic label (no relation to the mag) in 1947, and went on to sign now-legendary artists like Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles — and, in the late 1960s, a then-new band called Led Zeppelin.

Now Ahmet Ertegun’s charity has prompted a reunion by Zeppelin, an event considered so unlikely that one could say he’s continuing to make music history from beyond the grave — all because many years ago, a Turkish kid chose to remain in America, the country with whose music he fell in love and would later help shape (forsaking safe government employment to do so). What idea — or act — could be more American than that?