Groundbreaking Record Exec Jerry Wexler Dies

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Jerry Wexler, the feisty Atlantic Records executive who coined the term “rhythm and blues” and produced some of the standout recordings by Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Wilson Pickett, has died. He was 91.

Wexler, who suffered from congenital heart disease, died Saturday at his home in Sarasota, Fla.

Along with Sam Phillips of Sun Records, Wexler helped define the role of the modern record producer. He oversaw Charles’s rollicking classic “What’d I Say” in 1959 and recorded Bob Dylan’s first Grammy Award-winning song, “Gotta Serve Somebody,” two decades later.

A native New Yorker, he was one of the first industry executives to capitalize on the pool of talented black and white musicians in the Deep South. He worked the console at Stax Records in Memphis, Tenn., and Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., where he helped give birth to American soul music with songs such as Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour” and Ms. Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You).”

“Wexler was cutting records as if they were short stories,” the Memphis musician and producer Jim Dickinson told the online magazine Salon in 2000. “He brought a depth of literature to a music that was basically treated as if it was primitive.”

Wexler was an ardent music fan who parlayed his knowledge and journalism degree into a job at Billboard magazine in the late 1940s. There, he succeeded in substituting “rhythm and blues” for “race records,” the term used at the time for the work of black performers.

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