Ahmet Ertegun is born in Istanbul, Turkey

One of the most influential figures in the history of American popular music was born on this day in 1923 in perhaps the unlikeliest of places: Istanbul, Turkey. The son of a high-ranking diplomat, Ahmet Ertegun enjoyed a cosmopolitan upbringing that included stops in Switzerland, Paris and London before his father’s appointment as Turkish ambassador to the United States brought him to America. Intelligent, well-educated and well-connected, Ertegun had attractive career opportunities to consider when he graduated from Maryland’s St. John’s College in 1944, but his Americanization had already gone too far. “I had to decide whether I would go into a scholastic life or go back to Turkey in the diplomatic service,” he recalled many years later. “[But] what I really loved was music…and hanging out.”

To hold those priorities as a recent college graduate is one thing, but to turn them into a hugely successful career of great historical and cultural significance is quite another. Along with his older brother, Nesuhi, Ahmet was a jazz and blues aficionado. Together, the two Erteguns had amassed an enormous record collection of mostly black artists—artists who had little hope of mainstream success in the segregated America of the 1940s. While Nesuhi went west to take over a Los Angeles record store in 1944, Ahmet remained on the East Coast, moving to New York City to establish an independent record label with partner Herb Abramson in 1947. That label, Atlantic Records, would play a pivotal role in breaking down the racial barriers that characterized the postwar music industry.

At Atlantic Records in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Ertegun worked with artists like Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, The Drifters and Ray Charles to lay down the foundations of a musical style that future Atlantic producer Jerry Wexler had only recently christened “rhythm and blues.” The future styles called “soul” and “rock and roll” would also evolve out of the sounds that Ertegun helped to popularize, and the early Atlantic catalog would be instrumental in inspiring the blues-based rock that British bands like the Rolling Stones brought to America in the mid-1960s.

When Herb Abramson departed Atlantic in 1958, Jerry Wexler and Nesuhi Ertegun joined on as partners, and after another incredibly successful decade as a true independent, they sold the label to the forerunner of Time Warner in 1967. Atlantic retained a distinct identity within its parent company, however, even as it moved from the music of Aretha Franklin and Led Zeppelin in the 1960s and 1070s to gangsta rap in the 1990s.

Born on this day in 1923, Ahmet Ertegun died in 2006 following a fall backstage at a Rolling Stones concert at the Beacon Theater in New York City.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!


Ranger 7 photographs moon

Ranger 7, an unmanned U.S. lunar probe, takes the first close-up images of the moon—4,308 in total—before it impacts with the lunar surface northwest of the Sea of the Clouds. The images were 1,000 times as clear as anything ever seen through earth-bound telescopes. The National more

Ignatius of Loyola dies

Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order of Roman Catholic missionaries and educators, dies in Rome. The Society of Jesus, as the Jesuit order is formally known, played an important role in the Counter-Reformation and eventually succeeded in converting millions around the more

Jimmy Hoffa disappears

On July 31, 1975, James Riddle Hoffa, one of the most influential American labor leaders of the 20th century, disappears in Detroit, Michigan, never to be heard from again. Though he is popularly believed to have been the victim of a Mafia hit, conclusive evidence was never more

Agreement on conduct of war

In a news conference, Secretary of State Dean Rusk admits there are differences between the United States and South Vietnam on the issue of extending the war into North Vietnam, but agreement on the general conduct of the war. He stated that U.S. warnings to communist China and more

Nolan Ryan wins 300th game

On July 31, 1990, Nolan Ryan wins the 300th game of his career, throwing 7 2/3 strong innings with eight strikeouts to lead his Texas Rangers to an 11-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. Lynn Nolan Ryan, Jr. was born January 31, 1947, in Refugio, Texas and raised in Alvin, more

Former President Andrew Johnson dies

On this day in 1875, former President Andrew Johnson, the man who had become president upon the tragic assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, dies of a stroke while visiting his daughter in Tennessee. Johnson’s career took him from mayor of Greeneville (1834) to the more

Apache scout Martine dies

Charles Martine, an Apache scout who played an important role in the surrender of Geronimo, dies on the Mescalero Reservation in New Mexico. Born in 1858 among the Chiricahua Apache of northern Mexico, Martine was captured as a young boy and sold to a Mexican family as a servant. more

J.K. Rowling born

On this day in 1965, Joanne Rowling, better known the world over as J.K. Rowling, the author and creator of the celebrated Harry Potter book series, is born near Bristol, England. Beginning in the late 1990s, Rowling’s seven Harry Potter novels became international blockbusters, more

Hurricane sinks Spanish treasure ships

A hurricane strikes the east coast of Florida, sinking 10 Spanish treasure ships and killing nearly 1,000 people, on this day in 1715. All of the gold and silver onboard at the time would not be recovered until 250 years later. From 1701, Spain sent fleets of ships to the more

Jimmy Hoffa vanishes

Teamsters Union president Jimmy Hoffa is reported missing in Detroit, Michigan. He was last seen alive in a parking lot outside the Machus Red Fox restaurant the previous afternoon. To this day, Hoffa’s fate remains a mystery, although many believe that he was murdered by more

Senator Robert A. Taft dies

Senate Majority Leader Robert A. Taft (R-Ohio) dies of cancer at the age of 63. Branded by critics as an “isolationist,” Taft was a consistent critic of America’s Cold War policies. Taft, known as “Mr. Republican” because of his ferocious partisanship, was a true conservative in more

Third Battle of Ypres begins in Flanders

On July 31, 1917, the Allies launch a renewed assault on German lines in the Flanders region of Belgium, in the much-contested region near Ypres, during World War I. The attack begins more than three months of brutal fighting, known as the Third Battle of Ypres. While the first more