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Atlantic Records Co-Founder Ahmet Ertegun Dies at 83

Photo credit: Norman Jean Roy

Ahmet Ertegun, founding chairman of Atlantic Records, passed away on December 14 in New York City at the age of 83. He had been hospitalized with a head injury since October 29, when he fell backstage at a Rolling Stones concert at the Beacon Theatre in Manhattan.

“Mr. Ertegun suffered a severe brain injury after he fell in October. He
was in a coma and passed away with his family at his bedside,” said
Dr. Howard A. Riina, Mr. Ertegun’s neurosurgeon at New York
Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Mr. Ertegun will be buried in a private ceremony in his native
Turkey. A memorial service will be conducted in New York after the
New Year.

“All of us at Atlantic Records are profoundly saddened by the loss of
our founder and mentor,” said Atlantic Chairman/CEO Craig Kallman.
“The music community has lost a pioneer and an icon, and we have lost
our father. Ahmet changed the course of modern music and culture, and
he will live on through the timeless legacy of work that was created
under his direction and care. Musicians loved him because he truly
loved them and spoke their language. The essence of Ahmet Ertegun is
the essence of Atlantic Records. His passion for music and his
devotion to the artists who make it have been at the very heart of
this company for six decades. Our thoughts and prayers are
with Ahmet’s wife, Mica, and his family during this very difficult

“Ahmet never stopped working, because for him, it was never work, it
was life,” said Atlantic President Julie Greenwald. “He started
Atlantic with a fan’s enthusiasm, an independent spirit and a deep
understanding of the music. Ahmet touched the lives of artists,
producers, songwriters and countless others who were blessed by his
creativity, wisdom and humor. He changed the music and he changed
the music business, and he is the inspiration to an entire new
generation of music people who will strive to follow in his amazing

At the 2005 TEC Awards in New York City, Ertegun (right) gave a moving speech on behalf of colleague and friend Arif Mardin (left).

Under Ertegun’s direction, Atlantic evolved from a groundbreaking,
independent R&B and jazz label into one of the world’s preeminent
music companies. His legacy includes such artists as Ray Charles, Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, LaVern Baker, The Clovers, The Drifters, John Coltrane, Ben E. King, Bobby Darin, Sonny & Cher, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Solomon Burke, Wilson Pickett, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, The Rolling Stones, Bette Midler, Roberta Flack, Phil Collins
and many others.

Ertegun was also founder and chairman of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In
recognition of his pioneering contributions to contemporary music and
culture, he was himself elected to the Hall of Fame in 1987, and the
Museum’s main exhibition hall in Cleveland, Ohio bears his name.

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