When Ahmet Ertegun founded Atlantic Records in 1947 with the $10,000 investment of his dentist, he never guessed it would be a lifelong career. The son of a Turkish civil servant, Ertegun was so certain that his record label would be short-lived that he penned songs under the name "Nugetre" so that, when he followed in his father's footsteps and entered a career of government service, nobody would know he had spent a few years writing "obscene" songs.
Atlantic began as a three-person operation, with Ertegun and co-founder Herb Abramson producing the music and doing the A&R and promotion work, and Abramson's wife Miriam doing all of the office work. As its reputation grew, the label got slightly bigger but still operated as a small independent, amassing artists like Ray Charles, Ben E. King, Aretha Franklin, and Bobby Darin, along with the songwriting team of Leiber & Stoller and legendary producer Phil Spector. Atlantic managed to outlast the many other independents of the R&B and early rock era thanks to Ertegun's sensible approach to running a record label: he signed artists he liked and hoped the world liked them just as much. Fortunately for him, they did.
American Masters is presenting a two-hour retrospective, mostly in chronological order, that both reveals the story of Ertegun (largely in the form of anecdotes told by Ertegun, his wife, and many Atlantic artists) while telling the history of the label, highlighting its big "gets" and detailing its adaptability and ability to survive in the sea of major labels. While Ertegun passed away in December of last year, his interviews are spirited and entertaining--he's obviously a man who's young at heart, even into his 80s. It's clear from the affection of legends like Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, and Mick Jagger that they all have tremendous respect and admiration for this man and the record label he built.
By believing in himself and his artists, and being a music lover before a businessman, Ahmet Ertegun created a successful business and revolutionized the music industry.