Jerry Wexler

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Jerry Wexler
Jerry Wexler.png
Gerald Wexler

(1917-01-10)January 10, 1917
DiedAugust 15, 2008(2008-08-15) (aged 91)
Alma materKansas State University (B.A., Journalism, 1946)
Years active1940s–1990s
Spouse(s)Shirley Kampf (divorced)
Renee Pappas (divorced)
Jean Arnold

Gerald Wexler (January 10, 1917 – August 15, 2008) was a music journalist turned music producer, and was a major influence on American popular music from the 1950s through the 1980s. He coined the term "rhythm and blues", and was integral in signing and/or producing many of the biggest acts of the time, including Ray Charles, the Allman Brothers, Chris Connor, Aretha Franklin, Led Zeppelin, Wilson Pickett, Dire Straits, Dusty Springfield and Bob Dylan. Wexler was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and in 2017 to the National Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame.

Early life[edit]

Wexler was born in The Bronx, New York City, the son of a German Jewish father and a Polish Jewish mother; he grew up in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Upper Manhattan.[1][2][3] Despite graduating from George Washington High School at age 15, he dropped out of the City College of New York after two semesters.[4] In 1935, Wexler enrolled at what is now Kansas State University, where he studied intermittently for several years. Following his service in the Army, Wexler became a serious student, and he graduated from Kansas State with a B.A. in journalism in 1946.[5][6]


External video
video icon Rock and Roll; Respect; Interview with Jerry Wexler, 22:01, WGBH Open Archive[7]

During his time as an editor, reporter, and writer for Billboard Magazine, Wexler coined the term "rhythm and blues".[8] In June 1949, at his suggestion, the magazine changed the name of the Race Records chart to Rhythm & Blues Records. Wexler wrote, "'Race' was a common term then, a self-referral used by blacks. ... On the other hand, 'Race Records' didn't sit well. ... I came up with a handle I thought suited the music well – 'rhythm and blues.' ... [It was] a label more appropriate to more enlightened times."[9]

Wexler became a partner in Atlantic Records in 1953. There followed classic recordings with Ray Charles, the Drifters and Ruth Brown. With Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun, he built Atlantic Records into a major force in the recording industry.[10]

In the 1960s, he recorded Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin, and oversaw production of Dusty Springfield's highly acclaimed Dusty in Memphis and Lulu's New Routes albums. He also cultivated a tight relationship with Stax Records,[11] was an enthusiastic proponent of the then-developing Muscle Shoals Sound and launched the fortunes of Muscle Shoals Sound Studios and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. In 1967 he was named Record Executive of the Year for turning Aretha Franklin's career around. In November 1966, Franklin's Columbia recording contract expired; at that time, she owed the company money because record sales had not met expectations. Working with Wexler and Atlantic, Franklin was "the most successful singer in the nation" by 1968.[12] His work in this decade put Atlantic at the forefront of soul music.[13]

In 1968, he and Ahmet Ertegun signed Led Zeppelin to Atlantic Records on the recommendation of singer Dusty Springfield and from what they knew of the band's guitarist, Jimmy Page, from his performances with the Yardbirds.[14] With its strong catalog, Atlantic Records was purchased by Warner Bros. Records in 1968. In 1975, Wexler moved from Atlantic to its parent Warner Records.

In 1979, Wexler produced Bob Dylan's controversial first "born again" album, Slow Train Coming[15] at Muscle Shoals; a single from that album, "Gotta Serve Somebody", won a Grammy Award in 1980. When Wexler agreed to produce, he was unaware of the nature of the material that awaited him. "Naturally, I wanted to do the album in Muscle Shoals—as Bob did—but we decided to prep it in L.A., where Bob lived", recalled Wexler. "That's when I learned what the songs were about: born-again Christians in the old corral. ... I like the irony of Bob coming to me, the Wandering Jew, to get the Jesus feel ... [But] I had no idea he was on this born-again Christian trip until he started to evangelize me. I said, 'Bob, you're dealing with a sixty-two-year-old confirmed Jewish atheist. I'm hopeless. Let's just make an album.'"

In 1983, Wexler recorded with UK pop star George Michael. The most famous out-take of these sessions would prove to be a rare early version of "Careless Whisper", recorded in Muscle Shoals.

In 1987, Wexler was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[16] He retired from the music business in the late 1990s.

For most of the 1990s, Wexler lived on David's Lane in East Hampton, New York, where he shared living space with a Chinese family who aided him with daily functions and kept him company.


In Ray, the biopic of Ray Charles, Wexler is portrayed by Richard Schiff.[17] Wexler is portrayed by Marc Maron in the 2021 movie Respect, the life story of Aretha Franklin, and by David Cross in season three of the television show Genius.[18]

Tom Thurman produced and directed a documentary film about Wexler, Immaculate Funk (2000). The film takes its name from Wexler's own expression for the Atlantic sound.[8]

Personal life[edit]

Wexler married three times. In 1941, he married Shirley Kampf; they had three children before divorcing: Lisa, Paul, and Anita (predeceased).[19] His second wife was Renee Pappas.[19] His third wife was playwright-novelist Jean Arnold.[20] He died at his home in Sarasota, Florida, on August 15, 2008, from congestive heart failure.[20] Asked by a documentary filmmaker several years before his death what he wanted on his tombstone, Wexler replied "Two words: 'More bass'."[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Jerry Wexler" by Richard Williams, The Guardian, 17 August 2008. "Born to a German-Jewish father who struggled to make a living from a window-cleaning business and a doting Russian-Jewish mother whose socialist inclinations led her to sell the Daily Worker on the streets of Harlem, he was brought up in the Washington Heights district of Manhattan".
  2. ^ Kahn, Ashley. "Jerry Wexler: The Man Who Invented Rhythm & Blues: Donny Hathaway, Aretha Franklin producer, Atlantic Records co-chief and music business pioneer dies at age 91", Rolling Stone, August 15, 2008. Accessed August 17, 2008. "He was born Gerald Wexler in 1917 to a working class family, and grew up during the Depression in the upper Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights."
  3. ^ Cherry, Robert; Griffith, Jennifer (Summer 2014). "Down to Business: Herman Lubinsky and the Postwar Music Industry". Journal of Jazz Studies. 10 (1): 1–24. doi:10.14713/jjs.v10i1.84.
  4. ^ Italie, Hillel, via the Associated Press. "Record producer Jerry Wexler dies", The Kansas City Star, August 17, 2008. Accessed August 17, 2008.
  5. ^ Moody, Nekesa Mumbi (August 16, 2008). "Jerry Wexler changed the music world". The Seattle Times.
  6. ^ Crawford, Anthony R. (August 19, 2008). "Jerry Wexler: Mr. 'Rhythm & Blues'" (PDF). New Prairie Press. Retrieved July 28, 2019.
  7. ^ "Rock and Roll; Respect; Interview with Jerry Wexler". WGBH Open Archive. Retrieved October 17, 2016.
  8. ^ a b c Weber, Bruce (August 15, 2008). "Jerry Wexler, a Behind-the-Scenes Force in Black Music, Is Dead at 91". The New York Times. Retrieved July 27, 2019. Jerry Wexler, who as a reporter for Billboard magazine in the late 1940s christened black popular music with the name 'rhythm and blues,' and who as a record producer helped lead the genre to mainstream popularity, propelling the careers of Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and other performers, died on Friday at his home in Sarasota, Fla. He was 91.
  9. ^ Wexler, Jerry; Ritz, David (1993). Rhythm and the Blues: A Life in American Music. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-224-03963-6.
  10. ^ Halberstadt, Alex (September 5, 2000). "Jerry Wexler". Archived from the original on 2006-07-14. Retrieved 2006-06-28.
  11. ^ Jerry Wexler interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1970)
  12. ^ The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll. Random House. 1992. p. 339. ISBN 978-0679737285.
  13. ^ Kurutz, Steve. "Jerry Wexler Biography". Retrieved 2006-06-28.
  14. ^ Welch, Chris (1994) Led Zeppelin, London: Orion Books. ISBN 1-85797-930-3, p. 31
  15. ^ Colin Larkin, ed. (1993). The Guinness Who's Who of Soul Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 296. ISBN 0-85112-733-9.
  16. ^ "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Jerry Wexler". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 2006-05-29. Retrieved 2006-06-28.
  17. ^ Ray (cast & crew) at AllMovie
  18. ^ Evans, Greg (December 6, 2019). "'Nat Geo's 'Genius: Aretha' Offers First Look Of Cynthia Erivo As Queen Of Soul". Deadline.
  19. ^ a b "White man with a black musical soul". Sydney Morning Herald. August 19, 2008.
  20. ^ a b "Jerry Wexler, famed record producer, dies at 91". Associated Press. August 15, 2008. Archived from the original on August 18, 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-17. Legendary record producer Jerry Wexler, who helped shape R&B music with influential recordings of Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and other greats, and later made key recordings with the likes of Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, has died, said his son, Paul. He was 91. Paul Wexler said his father died at home in Sarasota, Fla., about 3:45 a.m. Friday of heart disease; the death was first confirmed to The Associated Press by David Ritz, co-author of Wexler's 1993 memoir, "Rhythm and the Blues."

External links[edit]