Born Nesuhi Ertegun in Istanbul, Turkey, (died on July 15, 1989, at the age of 71 due to complications following cancer surgery); moved to the U.S. in 1939 with his family to live in Washington D.C.; son of M. Munir Ertegun, (Turkish ambassador to the U.S); brother of Ahmet Ertegun (Atlantic Records co-founder and producer); married: wife Selma; children: Leyla and Rustem. Education: Attended school at the Sorbonne in Paris; attended the American University in Washington D.C.
Visionary Atlantic Records partner Nesuhi Ertegun, brother of Atlantic Records chairman and cofounder Ahmet Ertegun, helped establish the label as a haven for now-classic jazz, pop, and rhythm-and-blues. Ertegun joined the label in 1955 as a partner--his brother founded the company in 1947--and was in charge of expanding Atlantic's jazz roster and of shifting the singles-oriented label into LP production. Under his direction, Atlantic's jazz roster widened to include such musical titans as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, the Modern Jazz Quartet, and Herbie Mann. He also oversaw the recordings of Coleman's Shape of Jazz to Come, Coltrane's Giant Steps, and Mingus' Blues and Roots. In many cases, the jazz recordings that musicians created with Ertegun were their initial recordings. Joel Dorn, a producer who recorded and promoted jazz for Atlantic in the 1960s, told Rolling Stone 's Fred Goodman, "Atlantic had the best mix of commercial and artistic music. With John Coltrane, Bobby Darin, and Ray Charles on the same label, the scope was just incredible. That was a reflection of Nesuhi's viewpoint." Ertegun oversaw Atlantic's mid-fifties move into long-playing albums, and Jerry Wexler, the former president of Atlantic Records, told Goodman, "Nesuhi opened that whole area for Atlantic--everything from recording to packaging was done under Nesuhi's guidance." Ertegun won a 1991 Lifetime Achievement Award and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that same year.
Ertegun was born in Istanbul, Turkey, and moved to the U.S. in 1939 with his family to live in Washington D.C. His father, M. Munir Ertegun, served as the Turkish ambassador to the U.S. As a young man, Ertegun and his brother Ahmet organized jam sessions with jazz musicians at the Turkish embassy, and both brothers were known to be ardent record collectors. He and his brother Ahmet would frequent the Howard Theater in Washington D.C. and scour the black community for records by their favorite musicians. Ertegun attended school at the Sorbonne in Paris and then at American University in Washington D.C. After college, he moved to Los Angeles and opened a record store; he also started his own record label, Crescent Records--later called Jazzman--which released recordings by Jelly Roll Morton, Jimmy Noone, Kid Ory, and other early New Orleans-style jazz musicians. He taught one of the earliest accredited classes in jazz music at UCLA and edited a record magazine called Record Challenger . While Ertegun was living on the west coast, Wexler asked him to record a session with the R&B group The Drifters as a favor, even though Ertegun wasn't affiliated with Atlantic Records at the time. When he was a producer at Atlantic, Ertegun's career extended far beyond jazz: he produced recordings by LaVern Baker, Ray Charles, and Bobby Darin. He was also responsible for signing Roberta Flack to the label, after Dorn brought her talent to his attention. He had a taste for sophisticated cabaret music and produced albums by Bobby Short. Dorn told Goodman, "I was stunned by how meticulous he was. When preparing an album, he'd be just as concerned about the cover art and the punctuation in the liner notes as he was with the music."
Warner Brothers chairman Steven J. Ross told Susan Heller Anderson of the New York Times, "He attracted the top people because he cared so much about music and musicians. Musicians were enormously responsive to him because he realized that music was a universal language." Modern Jazz Quartet pianist John Lewis told Goodman, "He was key in the development of the Modern Jazz Quartet. He was just about the only producer I worked with, and without him, the group wouldn't have happened." Lewis was one of many musicians who grew close to Ertegun after meeting and working with him. Yusef Lateef, a flutist and saxophonist with the Modern Jazz Quartet, told Goodman, "Talking to Nesuhi was like talking to a brother or a father ... when I returned to the U.S. in 1985 [from Nigeria], it was because of Nesuhi that I was able to do an album that won a Grammy."
In 1971, four years after Atlantic Records was acquired by Warner Communications in 1967, Ertegun spearheaded the creation of WEA International--a global network of record companies that rendered Warner the world's largest record company with sales in excess of $1 billion. He served as the company's chairman and CEO from 1971-87, and oversaw the creation of WEA operations in dozens of countries. He was able to bring the American music of WEA's U.S. labels--Warner, Elektra/Asylum, and Atlantic, as well as Geffen and MCA--to far reaches of the globe. Ertegun spoke several languages, and his elegant, distinguished, quiet demeanor served him well as an ambassador of music. The establishment of WEA-distributed artists such as Madonna, Prince, and U2 as international superstars would have been unlikely had it not been for Ertegun's groundbreaking work. Ertegun was also in charge of the special projects division of Warner Communications, and created his own jazz label, East-West Records, in 1987-1988. He was also the first president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which presents the Grammy Awards. From 1981-89, Ertegun was chairman of the International Federation of Phonographic Industries, which represents all recording companies in copywriting. During his time as chairman, he helmed a campaign to stop the piracy of records, tapes, and sheet music, particularly in his homeland, Turkey, and in Korea and Southeast Asia.
Ertegun's other passions apart from music were soccer and art. He founded the New York Cosmos Soccer Club in 1971 and brought some of the sport's best players to New York. Ertegun was a close friend of statesman Henry Kissenger, and Kissinger told Anderson that Ertegun was invaluable in advising him during his successful negotiations to bring the 1994 World Cup soccer championship to the U.S. He also collected books and art; his substantial collection of mostly Surrealist paintings included pieces by Max Ernst, Magritte, Dali, Bacon, and Arp. He was a member of the board of the T.J. Martell Foundation, which provided money for cancer research.
Dorn told Goodman, "He was so antithetical to the typical record guy. There were a couple of guys who were special--Nesuhi, [Columbia Records president] Goddard Lieberson, [Columbia A&R man] John Hammond--and I don't know how you replace those people. The record industry is a product of their moments." Ertegun died on July 15, 1989, at the age of 71 due to complications following cancer surgery at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame two years later in 1991 and given a Lifetime Achievement Award that same year. He lived in Manhattan, and Katonah, NY, and Biot, France. His former partner Wexler told Goodman, "He was a linguist, a philosopher, and he had studied at the Sorbonne. Malice is the aegis that his business flies under, yet there was nothing but good relations between us." When Dorn was 14 years old, long before he worked with Ertegun, he wrote a letter to Ertegun and told him that he wanted to be a producer. Ertegun wrote him back, sent him out-of-print records, and eventually let him produce his first record. Dorn told Goodman, "Anything I am, I owe to him."
by B. Kimberly Taylor
Nesuhi Ertegun's Career
Opened a record store after college and; started his own record label, Crescent Records (later Jazzman), released recordings by Jelly Roll Morton, Jimmy Noone, Kid Ory, and other early New Orleans-style jazz musicians; taught one of the earliest accredited classes on jazz music at UCLA; edited record magazine, Record Changer; recorded a session with the R&B group The Drifters as a favor to an Atlantic Records executive; joined the Atlantic Records as a partner, 1955;--headed expansion of Atlantic's jazz roster and of shifting the singles-oriented label into LP production; widened Atlantic's jazz roster widened to include Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, the Modern Jazz Quartet, and Herbie Mann; oversaw the recordings of Coleman's Shape of Jazz to Come, Coltrane's Giant Steps, and Mingus's Blues and Roots; produced recordings by LaVern Baker, Ray Charles, and Bobby Darin; signed Roberta Flack to the label; produced albums by Bobby Short; oversaw everything from packaging to recording during Atlantic Records' mid-1950s move into long-playing albums; after acquisition of Atlantic Records by Warner Communications in 1967, Ertegun spearheaded the creation of WEA International in 1971; created East-West Records, which specialized in jazz, 1987;: was first president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which presents the Grammy Awards; chairman of the International Federation of Phonographic Industries, 1981-89; helmed a campaign to stop the piracy of f records, tapes, and sheet music, particularly in his homeland, Turkey, and in Korea and Southeast Asia; founded the New York Cosmos Soccer Club, 1971.
Nesuhi Ertegun's Awards
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and given a Lifetime Achievement Award both in 1991.
- Down Beat , August 1987.
- Rolling Stone , May 7, 1989.
- New York Times , July 16, 1989.
- Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Website, http://www.rockhall.com/induct/ertenesu.html, (September 9, 1998).