Atlantic Records: History & Artists

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught history, and has an MA in Islamic law/finance. He has since founded his own financial advice firm, Newton Analytical.

Started by two Turkish brothers who loved the sounds of African American Music, the artists represented by Atlantic Records represent some of the greatest achievers in jazz, rhythm and blues, and hip hop.


Founded in 1947, Atlantic Records set out to bring the sounds of black musicians, most notably rhythm and blues, jazz, and early rock and roll, to a wider audience. Its founders, the Ertegun brothers, headed by Ahmet Ertegun, were actually the sons of Turkey's first ambassador to the United States, but decided not to return to Turkey. Instead, they stayed on to explore the American music scene, specifically African American music.

In late 1947 Atlantic Records was incorporated, and immediately threatened with a strike in 1948 that would keep many musicians from recording for a year. The company reached deep into savings to survive that first year, but by 1949 was again producing music. During this stage, the label was decidedly focused on jazz and rhythm and blues, most notably Big Joe Turner and Lead Belly.

In 1952, the label signed one of the most successful jazz artists of all time, Ray Charles. Other great musicians, including such luminaries as Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin would follow. However, the most enduring hires made by the label were often behind the scenes. Tom Dowd helped keep Atlantic on the cutting edge of technology, beginning with his push to record music in stereo, as opposed with only one microphone. Also of note is the role that Jerry Wexler played for the firm, keeping the label at the front of many artists' minds through his publicity work.

Atlantic also formed strategic partnerships with other companies, most notably Stax Records. This allowed Atlantic access to many emerging stars, of whom Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding are perhaps the most well remembered. However, this success made the company a target for larger groups, and by 1967 Atlantic was acquired by Warner Brothers, which used many of the trademarks of Atlantic, even to this day. Following this sale, the label began to sign artists from different genres, most notably rock and roll. This allowed Atlantic to sign groups like Genesis and Led Zeppelin.


Atlantic captured much of the market share in the rhythm and blues and jazz markets, meaning that its roster in those genres is notably impressive.

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