NEW YORK — Jerry Wexler not only coined the phrase "rhythm and blues," the legendary music producer was one of the key architects of the genre. He revolutionized popular music with seminal, superstar-making recordings of acts such as Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles.
But the genius of Mr. Wexler, who died Friday (Aug. 15, 2008) at his Sarasota home at 91, was not limited to one style of music. Over his decades-long career, he would create varied soundscapes that touched just about every kind of listener, from his work with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson to his masterful recording of Dusty Springfield to his work with pop and rock acts like George Michael and Dire Straits.
He also helped build one of the most influential labels in pop, Atlantic Records, which was the home of Franklin, Charles, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. He was named to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
"Jerry was truly one of the great record men of all time," Franklin said Friday. "I salute him today."
Mr. Wexler earned his reputation as a music industry giant while a partner at Atlantic Records with another legendary music figure, the late Ahmet Ertegun. Atlantic provided an outlet for the groundbreaking work of African-American performers in the 1950s and '60s.
Mr. Wexler helped boost the careers of both Charles and Franklin. Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke and Percy Sledge were among the other R&B greats who benefited from Mr. Wexler's deft recording touch.
"He loved black music, R&B music, and rhythm and blues was his foundation," Burke said after learning of his death. "Jerry Wexler didn't change the sound of America, he put the sound to the public. He opened the doors and windows to the radio stations … and made everybody listen."
Mr. Wexler landed a job writing for Billboard in the late 1940s. He coined the term "rhythm and blues" for the magazine's black music charts; previously, they were listed under "race records."
While working at Billboard, Mr. Wexler befriended Ertegun, who with a partner had started Atlantic, a small R&B label in New York. In 1953, when Ertegun's partner left for a two-year military hitch, Wexler stepped in as co-director.
Son Paul Wexler said a private service will take place in the coming weeks in Sarasota.
In the 2000 documentary about his career, Immaculate Funk, Wexler was asked what he wanted written on his tombstone. "Two words," said Mr. Wexler: "More bass."
Information from the San Francisco Chronicle was used in this report.