(1917 – 2008)
A key figure in exposing Rhythm and Blues music to a wider audience, Jerry Wexler was highly influential during his days as executive and producer for Atlantic Records, helping to shepherd the label's growth from small R&B imprint to massive industry force.
The Bronx native began his career as an editor and reporter for the music-industry trade journal Billboard, and it was he who coined the term "Rhythm and Blues" as a classification for what had previously been known in the industry as "race music" – a term Wexler found demeaning. He became a partner in Atlantic in 1953, invited by label co-founder Ahmet Ertegun after his partner Herb Abramson went into the army. With Ahmet and his brother Nesuhi Ertegun, Wexler played a key role in turning the independent imprint into America's most successful R&B label, working early on with acts including Ray Charles, the Drifters and Big Joe Turner.
Wexler was a major force in the development of Soul music in the '60s, producing records by the likes of Wilson Pickett, Dusty Springfield, and Aretha Franklin, and discovering and developing such outposts as Stax in Memphis, Fame in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and Criteria in Miami as out-of-town recording hubs. Wexler was also influential in growing Atlantic's profile as a rock label beginning in the late 60s, signing such acts as Led Zeppelin and the Allman Brothers Band.
Wexler left Atlantic in 1975 and moved to Warner Bros., where he was instrumental in bringing such new acts as Dire Straits, the Gang of Four and the B-52's to the label. He subsequently became a freelance producer, recording with such artists as Bob Dylan, Etta James, Santana and Willie Nelson. He retired from the music business in the late 1990s, living out the rest of his days at his home in Sarasota, Florida. He died in his sleep at the age of 93.