Jerry Wexler

Courtesy of the Rock Hall Library and Archive

Before the advent of rock and roll, the term producer wasn’t even part of the recording-industry vocabulary.

“No one really knew how to make a record when I started,” Jerry Wexler has said. “You simply went into the studio, turned on the mike and said play.” However, with the proliferation of independent record labels in the 1950s came a new breed of hands-on music-industry entrepreneurs. Among the most influential and important of these was Wexler at Atlantic Records.

His entree into the music business came at Billboard magazine, where he worked as a reporter and helped change the name of the black-music charts from “Race Records” to “Rhythm & Blues.” He joined Atlantic founders Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun in 1953 and began producing the company’s major rhythm & blues artists at all-night recording sessions that, in hindsight, were historic in their scope and impact on popular music. Wexler’s efforts at Atlantic helped bring black music to the masses - and in so doing built a significant and lasting bridge between the races.

In the Sixties, Wexler helped nurse soul music to a position of prominence by linking such singers as Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett with Southern house bands in Memphis and Muscle Shoals. Wexler has worked across the decade with artists ranging from LaVern Baker, Ray Charles, Ruth Brown, Solomon Burke and the Drifters to Dr. John, Dire Straits, Dusty Springfield, Delaney and Bonnie, and Bob Dylan.  He passed away on August 15, 2008.

Jerry Wexler (record executive and producer; born January 10, 1917, died August 15, 2008)