The intersection between commerce and culture is a space that few people have occupied as successfully as Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun, who passed away this week. Today’s Washington Post features a great profile of Ertegun’s fascinating life. Growing up in Washington, D.C. as the son of the Turkish amassador, Ertegun fell in love with American popular music. As Post writer Richard Harrington notes, his passion for music led him to blaze trails in other areas:
In a segregated city, the Ertegun brothers haunted local jazz and blues clubs. The Crystal Caverns is where, in 1947, he discovered Ruth Brown, Atlantic’s first hitmaker. The pair also collected jazz and blues 78s; they’d go from house to house in black neighborhoods because they craved “race” records “and that was the only place you could find them,” Ertegun recalled.
On Sundays, the Erteguns turned the Turkish Embassy into an open-house brunch for visiting jazz musicians, with informal — and integrated — jam sessions that begat some enduring friendships. As teenagers, the brothers promoted the city’s first integrated concert at the Jewish Community Center, the only venue that would allow both a mixed band and a mixed audience.
His decision to become a music entrepreneur was bold, since it required his giving up a secure government sinecure, which is by itself praiseworthy:
When their father died in 1944, Ahmet and Nesuhi [Ertegun] rejected the family tradition of civil service in Turkey and decided to remain here — with Ahmet at one point turning down an offer from family friend (and Washington Post publisher) Eugene Meyer to become a cub reporter at this paper.
And he never stopped. Ertegun was taken to a hospital after falling backstage at a Rolling Stones concert in New York, “the longest-standing record label founder, still at the helm of his company almost 60 years on.” He may have been born in Turkey, but Ertegun was, as the old cliche goes, an American original.