"Atlantic Records: The House that Ahmet Built"

American Masters

by David Gutowski

One of my fondest childhood memories is my dad playing a Ray Charles album for me, and explaining that the roots of the great American performer's music lay in the blues. Not surprisingly, that album, The Genius of Ray Charles, was released on Atlantic Records, the label founded by Ahmet Ertegun. Ertegun arrived in the United States an immigrant, but fell in love with the blues and jazz, and built one of the most successful record labels in music history.

Narrated by Bette Midler, "Atlantic Records: The House that Ahmet Built" is as much tribute as biography. Ertegun is paired with the artists who recorded for him, his Atlantic compatriots, fellow record company moguls, and their discussions are less interviews and more cheerful reminiscing filled with anecdotes and laughter. These repartees are filled with mutual admiration and respect. From Ray Charles to Phil Collins to Jimmy Page, the artists give credit to Ertegun for giving them free reign to create their art on their own terms. Every artist featured notes Ertegun's outgoing and fun-loving personality, the main force behind Atlantic Records' positive atmosphere. The program does touch on the Alan Freed payola scandal, as well as some royalty disputes (settled by Ertegun himself), but generally centers around Ertegun and his love of music and life.

Ertegun's life story is filled with milestones. He was the first to hold integrated jazz shows in Washington D.C. Atlantic Records was one of the first national labels to record African-American artists playing blues-based music. He signed Led Zeppelin without ever hearing a note from the band, his confidence based on Jimmy Page and Robert Plant's previous bands, and was at the forefront of the 60's British invasion. Later in his career, he was flexible enough to change the label's direction as musical tastes changed, signing ABBA, Foreigner, and others.

Ahmet Ertegun was a truly unique record company mogul. Not only did he have an immense knowledge of music, but he also wrote songs, performed and produced some of his label's releases, and formed personal and positive relationships with his artists. Most importantly, Ahmet Ertegun spent his life doing what he loved, and his enthusiasm never waned until his untimely death at age 83 after a fall backstage at a Rolling Stone concert (Hollywood couldn't write a more fitting ending).


Ahmet Ertegun is responsible for delivering the soundtrack of my life. Proof that you never really know how God uses your talent to effect the life of people you'll never meet.
Great documentary!

so glad I turned on my tv, a rare event. The whole show was captivating with one great artist after another. So much wonderful music thanks to one great man. Peace Ahmet.

Great show. I loved it so much I wish I could have known him. He must have been a great Man

Loved this presentation. Great, original insight into artists and the evolution of American music, blues and beyond. And what a great human being, Ahmet, a man with an open heart and authentic disposition. Got to know him and would have loved to have met him. Trailer went so quick. Didn't catch the 1-800 number to purchase a copy. Number please!

Ahmet was truly a gentleman. A great program, with great conversations that we got to be a part of. Ahmet, rest in peace.

Greta show, amazing man.

I need the info to order the dvd of the show.



Just watched the program and I think it's safe to say that Ahmet was the ultimate musical mastermind of the 20th century. He was also a beautiful soul. That's obvious.I was especially touched by the footage of Otis Redding and of course Led Zeppelin's master guitarist Jimmy Page. I can still feel the love. Bless you Ahmet for leaving this legacy.

The program was interesting. It is good to see a record company that gives artists freedom to develop. However, I need to say that I am very disappointed that the group Yes was not mentioned even once! I understand that Atlantic has a huge number of recording artists, but to mention Mott the Hoople and not Yes is a sin. Emerson, Lake, and Palmer and King Crimson got a mention but somehow Yes did not... Big mistake.

Could you give me the 800 # to order the DVD for "The House that Ahmet Built" Thank you, Paul Barretta

who ever has the 800 number for obtaining this DVD, please post it.

Thank you, Darryl

Great!! Outstanding program!!
Ahmet is the most wonderful human being on earth. He wasn't in it for the money, but rather the love of music.
Ahmet Ertegun and Peter Grant two of the Greatest People in Music History.

Just outstanding. What a visual piece to leave for history. Too bad he died so soon!

One of the finest examples of a giving, visionary and cosmopolitan human being who recognized the best in American Culture at a time when most of America wouldn't. It makes me wonder if that kind of admiration of American Culture is still viewed with the same admiration by a global audience. I will be one of those who will order & cherish the DVD available at 1-800-336-1917.

He was born in the same year that Turkish Republic was established. I am happy to know that a fellow Turk contributed to the culture and the humanity of his adapted land in such a great and creative way, and had fun while doing it.

I thoroughly enjoyed the program and have been a fan of the Atlantic sound for as long as I can remember. I think I was a fan long before I even consciously knew what it was. I know that I have always loved the red and black (or red and yellow) art deco design of the original label and I am always tickled pick when it finds it's way onto a CD meant to suggest a nostagic feel. As a kid, I was always fascinated by the final outer groove of the 78's or LPs of the late '50s going in and out from the lable spinning around on the turntable. This was as much of my fascination to records as the actual music recorded on them. As a very young child, I could always identify a particular song or record by it's lable; even before I could read because I was always looking at the records as they played on the the turntable. I was never wrong. My people were always amazed by this, though I never understood why; it was all so very natural to me. I love and always have loved records!!!

At 50 years old, being born in '57, I was only 10 years old when Aretha released "Respect" but I had been listening to other artists on the label long before that; especially Ray Charles. I bought "Respect" on the very first day it became avallable in Washington, DC. There were seven other friends who lived on my block who also bought it that very same day. We knew it was a hit from the very first sound of the horns and strum of the guitar...but when her background singers sang "hoot" and she followed with "What'cho want...", we were done! That was the days of battery operated record players and we were always listening to music on the stoop. Up until then, the only record by Aretha I was familiar w/was "Rock-a-bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody" on Columbia. Since then, I have collected several of her recordings from the Columbia label but there is no denying that her Atlantic recordings are some of her very best.

As an avid collector of vinyl, I own many, many records of all speeds. I am especially proud of my 78 collection which includes several records on the Atlantic label, like; "Lucky Lips" by Ruth Brown and "What'd I Say" by Ray Charles both in mint condition but as a child of the '60's, my 45 collection is a sight to behold. As a collector, almost to the point of distraction, I have also always been very aware of Atlantic's subsidiary labels like Stax, Volt and it's connection to the Memphis groove. It was so wonderful to hear the story behind a name that I've seen on the album covers of artists I've loved for so many years. I often wondered how a person w/such a foreign sounding name became the person in charge of the leading label of soul music in the nation. Ahmet Ertegun and Arif Mardin are on almost every LP I own on the Atlantic label. I loved his story about going to Harlem when he was 17; priceless. That's what I call being in touch w/one's passion. If only I had had the insight and drive to turn my own passion for music into a multi-million dollar empire; wow!!!

I wish there had been a little more information on how the name of the label came about; along w/the name of the subsidiaries like Atco...although I could probably guess if I put my mind to it. I'm sure it had something to do w/not only his love of jazz music but also his knowledge of the fact that jazz music is purely American which in some way he connected to the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. Thank GOD for his passion, his good ear and his eye for talent. We music lovers are all the better for it. Absolutely outstanding program! - Ray Hatch

Once again PBS programming blows away anything showing on the commercial channels. The show was fabulous. I knew it would be as I have always loved Atlantic recording artists and now I know why. I was totally transported watching the show. It was a trip down memory lane - for a couple of hours I was back in high school and college, getting turned on to the blues, r&b and jazz. Ahmet, a most amazing man, he was at the right place at the right time and he obviously had a great life. He made an indelible mark. Working with recording engineer Tom Dowd was a stroke of genius too. You all should see the documentary, Tom Dowd and the Language of Music. Very cool.

Ahmet did as much to bridge the race barrier in our country as Jackie Robinson.
Profit motive aside, he knew what was right.

Great program. More than just great nostaliga, although it was that, too. Really well done--rich with the remembrances of so many stellar musicians. Moved along at a good pace, which is more than I can say for many other documentaries. Emmy material.

For those who asked -- the phone number for ordering the dvd of this outstanding documentary is: 1-800-336-1917. I'm informed that it won't ship until May 29.

Oh what a wonderful program this was! I was transfixed by the conversations, the storytelling, the music, the cool moxie and passion of this genius who brought so much joy to so many. I don't often sit watching TV without reading or surfing the net, bored with whatever is shown. This was so engaging, so fascinating....

The music of my life and of so many others,sigh.... And what a progressive and astute ear, to keep moving on successfully picking the next flavor of hit popular music! I too wish I could have met him, known him, as to be in his presence would surely have been quite the experience above and beyond the wonderful music he produced for all of us.

Thank you, Ahmet! We loved you then and love you still. Thank you for blessing us with the fruits of your passion.

I found it quite enlightening that a Turk (whose father was Moslem) showed white America the musical treasures in their own backyard, thereby bringing white and black people together. Amen to you, Ahmet! You surpassed your father in ambassadorial skills, and brought glorious music to all corners of this planet! Thank you.

Ever since I've known of a Bette Midler in late 1971 (via Johnny Carson's Tonight Show), I've known of an Ahmet Ertegun. Long having established myself as an audiophile of sorts, it seemed that Ahmet (as well as Arif) were among the true masters of the art of music. As companies have come & gone through the wasteful ways of commercialism, & even after Ahmet had "sold" Atlantic Records, he never surrendered his hands-on involvement with the artists he brought into the fold. Sad but fitting that he & one Atlantic's most talented producers died at roughly the same point in time, late last year (as Midler said, Hollywood couldn't have written a better ending). Hazaa! to Ahmet, all praise to the last of a truly dying breed. And congratulations to Public Broadcasting & American Masters for a marvelously masterful telling of his life, times, career, and to Mica as well for being the supportive wife that doesn't come along often enough.

Can I change careers? I'm blown away by the piece and the story behind the stories that forever changed my life as I was growing up. The music that connects me with my youth, my passion and my love...I should have submitted my resume to Ahmet to be his coffee girl or something! Oh, I missed the boat! But in all seriousness, the interviews with the musicians and Ahmet were fabulous. Thank goodness the love of music was the foundation for his passion and not the love of growing a corporation. Thank you Ahmet. Thank you PBS. Rock on!

This was a wonderful documentary and very truthful. Few people in the music industry will admit where American Music really came from. Ahmed was and is a legend. Black Americans have never received the entire credit they deserve for developing the music industry in America, (and world) through their creation of the Blues, Jazz, Rock, Pop and now Hip- Hop.

As someone for whom The Coasters and Drifters made the first records I bought, Atlantic Records is a big part of my life.

I understand the need for brevity in such a vast subject, but why do these bios of Atlantic Records consistantly ignore the contribution of the RASCALS? Except for Aretha, Atlantic did not have more consistantly successful or influential recordings in the 1960s. Why?

Is there a longer version?

Great Show! Great Time!

Thak you ALL

ilhan Gugus

This was, without question, my finest discovery while channel surfing. As a
66 year old 'blues and rock freak,' I totally identified with Ahmet's experience of being an outcast. This was
a man whose vision, foresight, and instinct is what makes true greatness.

Thank you

Awesome presentation, PBS !!!!!
My older sister grew up buying all those 45's that Atlantic and its subsidiaries produced, and I came to love all that music as well. I always wondered, as many of you have expressed, who this man was and now I feel I know his family, spirit, vision, and enthusiasm for great music alot better. What a great man he is, and what a wonderful legacy he left all of us! Thank you from the Franco Family !!

Does any one know the name of the artist at the end of the show? Admed, referred to his song as the "shoe song". I did not catch his name. Would appreciate any info.
Doug Bair

There is one aspect about this film that makes me cringe and lose respect for the filmmakers, one huge void that drops them from a 5 star rating to a 3, that is the complete omission and disregard for the vital role that Atlantic Records played in jazz in the 1960s. John Coltrane's Atlantic recording of Giant Steps changed the course of jazz, Atlantic had a fabulous rosters of jazz greats who made some landmark recordings of jazz, the founders of Atlantic were lovers of jazz first and foremost, the
filmmakers blew it by not including a segment on the jazz side of Atlantic
Records, the name Jon W. Coltrane was not uttered once despite the landmark
recordings made by Trane at Atlantic. It is a travesty to depict the history
of Atlantic Records and not make reference to, talk about, or indicate to
the viewers, especially the neophytes, that Atlantic Records was a force to
be reckoned with in the 1960s jazz world. What were they thinking? If time
constraints was an issue, they could've eliminated some of the extensive
Bette Midler in the 1970s NYC bathhouses footage.

Yes, I still enjoyed the film but I'll never understand how jazz, the USA's greatest cultural contribution to the world, was excluded from the Atlantic Records story.

Arturo Gómez
Music Director

I am so glad I happened to stumble on this AMAZING show - it was fascinating!

I am a black woman, 72 yrs. young. I was so impressed looking at this doc it almost brought tears to my eyes. This legend of a man had such a rare gift in recognizing the talents of so may gifted musicians of color. He gave them opportunities when the white music industries doors were closed, due to racism. Ironically the Europeans had the heart and soul to take this music and embrace it, something white America could not accept!!!! So here we are in the 21st century, new music(hip-hop), being played by whites, heard by young white people, still a long ways to go. We have so much talent!!!!

I thought it was a wonderful show, but agree with Arturo Gomez. Excluding mention of jazz artists -- especially Coltrane -- was a major oversight. All of us have our "favorites" and want them mentioned, but to pass over the major American music genre is difficult to understand. Especially in light of an otherwise first-rate production. Thank you to all involved for making it happen.

Boy did I get lucky last evening when I check PBS to see what was on....I am another person interested in buying the DVD....checked my monthly calendar magazine and did not see when it is listed to be shown again. Did I miss it, if so please advise if it will be replayed. You can sent the information regarding purchase to my e-mail address. Again, wonderful program. Judy

I read thru the prior comments and found a posting with the 1-800-336-1917 to order the DVD...which I just did...they could not have been nicer..WNET is an PBS affiliate...glad I was able to get the information....Judy

I loved this documentary. As everyone above has said, the man brought the greatest music in the world to our lives.

I like to view and read biographies. The only problem is, no one ever tells the reader/viewer how the successful person got his/her SEED MONEY! One cannot start out wanting to form a record company, for instance, when one doesn't even have money for rent or food. Same with writers. For entrepreneurs, that seed money, both for building the business and for supporting the entrepreneur WHILE s/he's building the business, needs to come from somewhere! As for artists, SOMEONE has to support that person (usually the wife!) WHILE the artist is being artistic and trying to sell his or her pieces of art or writing! I realize no successful person or his or her progeny want to let on that the money to start had to come from somewhere (even if it's just a bank -- we want to know that, too!). Why do all directors, producers, and writers ignore the issue of SEED MONEY? It's so basic, it's laughable. How many people out there (especially women) were thwarted in their lives because no one gave them seed money so they could realize their dreams and become successful as well?

I take nothing away from the genius and passion of Ertegun or anyone like him. I am just curious why no one ever mentions the very real need for seed money (and, in Ertegun's case, we are left to assume it came from his prosperous parents and family).

I woke to get a glass of water @ 3:30 a.m. and put the T.V. on to get the weather for the day thinking that I was headed right back to bed.How wrong I was. I was emmediately taken by the quality of this documentary,the pace,and narration.These were the many moments of my early years coming into perfect focus through the music,stories,interviews and footage.I watched the documentary right to the finish then went about my day.I am going to order my own DVD and only then will I go back to bed.Great work!!

Wonderful documentary! Ahmet Ertegun was one of my heroes in music, long before I knew what he looked like. Watching the show and listening to the music took me back to when I was a little girl in the 60s, the sounds of Ray Charles', Aretha Franklin, etc., filling my home, as my mom and I danced on the living room floor. Wherever you are, thank you Ahmet Ertegun for the great music and magic memories of my youth, that I will hold dear forever. His music and spirit will live on.

Great job PBS!

In answer to Pamala's query regarding "seed money". Ertegun convinced his dentist, also a jazz lover, to mortgage his house and invest $10,000. to get Atlantic going (no small amount in the late 40s). Also, as was mentioned in the program, Atlantic in the early days operated from a single room on a real shoestring (the only employees were the owners during the first year). They did not initially even have their own recording studio and rented studio time. This is how they met up with Tom Dowd who at the time was a college student working part time as an engineer. Like the Funk Brothers were to Motown, Tom Dowd is the unsung hero of the Atlantic sound. I was very familiar with Atlantic from the early 60s (Ray Charles and Lieber & Stoller era), but have more recently come to really respect the recordings they did in the 50s -- some of the best quality R&B ever put on disk (way above most of the other recordings of the era). In the 50s, mixing and recording was still an art and Atlantic led the indie labels in that area thanks to Mr. Dowd and the passion that the owners had for their product.

A program every boomer would enjoy, candor of all around, you can tell this is a world unlike most of us live in...

I can only say thank you for the great program and thank you to Mr. Ahmet Ertegun for all he has done for our generation.

Ahmet Ertegun was a visionary who turned his passion for music into a musical empire. Having been in the music business the past 35 years with ABC/Dunhill, Polygram, and Universal, I am well acquainted with Mr. Ertegun's story and legacy. He is idolized by fans and musicians worldwide for his amazing contribution to the industry. The story of Ertegun, Wexler, Abramson, Dowd, Mardin is the stuff of legends.I thought it was particularly noteworthy that two of the greatest pop songwriters of the 20th Century were also cited...Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller should be the subject of a PBS special on their own merit.
For anyone interested in more information on Ahmet Ertegun, pick up the book "What'd I Say" written by the gentleman himself.
Great show...can't wait to see it again!


I too enjoyed the show. Ahmet was a true legend of the 20th century.

But I'm wondering your thoughts on why John Coltrane was not mentioned at all?

Greg Thomas

Does any one know the name of the artist at the end of the show? Admed, referred to his song as the “shoe song”. I did not catch his name. It was a great song.

I found this a totally dishonest piece trying to wrap a racial allegory under the guise of a biographic about Mr. Ertegun.Tell me what does the music of Yes, Genesis and E.L.P. have to do with ameican "black" music? Last time I check their records sales combined about 300 MILLION unit sold. But all we get is Phil Collins as being signed to Atlantic in 1981 and no reference to the band he came from which was signed to Atlantic in 1972. I did notice Turn It On Again used in the piece. But because it didnt serve the racial morality ploy they dont get mentioned, did they even exist then?

The person singing the song at the end is called Paolo Nutini and the song is called New Shoes. You can give it a free listen at the Atlantic Redords web site.


Great program, actually I missed the program broadcasting at regular hours. But I was lucky. After midnight, I had the opportunity to watch repetition. We proud of you Ahmet ERTEGUN. I couldn't find any words to say, I am really upset about losing him. Thanks all.

The drugs, the explotation of artist (that is black artists) while the company an the new generation of white artist got super rich - I'm just trying to form a realistic and true picture, the music business was - and is HARD. Was it all worth it in the balance?

It was the very best I have seen in a long long time, Ahmet was incredible, he brought so much good music into my life and the lives of many many people.
He will be sorely missed, Ahmet - peace wherever you are - and god bless for what you have given us.

sid komisar

As a Soul Music starving student at WVU in the mid 1960's I would rather save $2.99 for an album of Mustang Sally, In The Midnight Hour,I'm a Soul Man, or Harlem Shuffle than eat. Oh how I danced to Atlantic records !
Until yesterday if someone had asked me which label that I put my money on the most, I would have said Mowtown. But last night I learned that my taste in music and my money followed Almet's taste. I had forgotten how much of Altantic was in my collection. and the most amazing part was how as Atlantic's signing contracts had changed,so did my taste in music. I went from Booker T to Cream & Led Zeplin from Aretha to Iron Buttlerfly......remember InaGodaDavida ! and never knew that a man named Almet had such a presence in my life. Thank you for this very surprising and fascinating walk through time. What a loveable man he must have been, and what a genious he was. I can't remember a time when this country and it's music went through such dynamic change. Yet Almet was right on top of it.

Frank Whitehouse
Lexington, Kentucky

Enjoyed the program but it glossed over Ertegun's role in systematically underpaying black artists of the period. That was shameful and exploitative.

His life has made ours better.
and he will be missed by many
who know him not.

The most compelling and brilliant documentary I have seen on TV about the life and work of a great original music lover and empresario , Mr. Ahmed Ertegun. What a Journey and Life !

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