Learn the Interesting History of Atlantic Records Recording Company


Atlantic Recording Corporation, simply known as Atlantic Records, is one of the major record labels in the world founded in October 1947 in the United States. It’s one of the greatest independent labels that sprung up in the late forties and challenged the primary major labels of its time: Decca, RCA, and Columbia. The company specializes in soul, jazz, and R&B. Today, it’s a fully owned subsidiary of the Warner Music Group.

Company Background

Atlantic Records is an American record label that operates as a subsidiary of Warner Music Group (WMG). Music industry mogul Ahmet Ertegun and his business partner Herb Abramson established Atlantic in 1947.

During its first 20 years of operation, the label earned a reputation as one of the essential American labels that specialize in jazz, R&B, and soul, promoting artists like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Ruth Brown, Sam and Dave, and Otis Redding. When it was owned by the Warner Music Group, it expanded into pop and rock music with releases by Yes, Bad Company and Led Zeppelin.

Atlantic and its sister label Elektra merged into Atlantic Records Group in 2004. Today, the company comprises one of the two flagships recorded music operations of WMG, along with Warner Bros. Records.

Craig Kallman, the founder of Big Beat Records, is the current chairman and CEO of Atlantic Records. Ahmet Ertegun served as its founding chairman until his death in December 2006 at age 83.

These are the sub-labels under Atlantic Records:

  • Big Beat Records
  • Canvasback
  • Elektra Records
  • Mayback Music Group
  • Fueled by Ramen
  • Roadrunner Records
  • LaSalle Records

Company History

Ahmet Ertegun remained in the United States after the death of their father, who is the first Turkish ambassador to the US. After being offered various jobs by his family friends, Ahmet turned them down and decided to get into the record business.

In 1946, Ahmet became friends with Herb Abramson, a dental student. Their mutual passion for jazz brought them together and decided to start a record label together. Given their limited experience in business, their family and friends were reluctant to lend them cash to help them start a company.

Ertegun finally persuaded his dentist and long-time family friend Dr. VahdiSabit to lend them $10,000. So, in 1947, Atlantic Records was born and operated out of a tiny suite on the ground floor of the Jefferson Hotel in Manhattan, New York.

Abramson served as the company president, Ertegun as vice president in charge of production, A&R, and promotion, and Abramson’s wife ran the label’s publishing company. They spent much of the late 1940s to early 1950s in search of talent.

Their first hit was released in February 1949, and it was Stick McGhee’s “Drinking Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee.” It reached the No. 2 spot after spending almost six months on the Billboard R&B chart. Atlantic’s revenue grew rapidly after that, with 187 songs recorded in 1949. They also received royalties for a manufacturing and distribution deal with Columbia.

Atlantic’s first significant signing was Ruth Brown, who dreams of becoming a black Doris Day, but Atlantic had other ideas and had her recording R&B songs. It earned her the nickname “Miss Rhythm.” Brown recorded more than 80 songs for the company, becoming its best-selling musician of the period. She also brought Atlantic’s first million-selling record in 1951.

Joe Morris scored the record a hit with his October 1959 song “Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere.” In 1952, Atlantic signed Ray Charles, a blind pianist, and singer from Georgia, who laid the foundations for what became the soul music.

Other Atlantic artists that enjoyed hits in the 1950s included The Coasters, LaVern Baker, The Clovers, Chuck Willis, and Clyde McPhatter, who became a lead vocalist for The Drifters.

When the Army has called Abramson to serve in Germany during the Korean War in 1953, Ahmet brought in Jerry Wexler, the Billboard writer who would later coin the term “rhythm and blues.” When Abramson went back from the Army in 1955, Wexler has taken over his role in the company. Abramson became in charge of the subsidiary label, Atco. In 1955, Ahmet’s older brother Nesuhi Ertegun was hired in January 1955. Ahmet put him in charge of LP production.

By 1958, Atlantic was America’s second-largest independent jazz label. That same year, relations between Abramson and his partners have broken down, and he decided to leave the company and buy out his stocks. Ahmet became the president of the label after Abramson’s departure.

Atlantic was doing so well, and it became the manufacturer and distributor for a Memphis-based label Stax in 1960. The records at Stax exemplified the emergent Southern Soul sound. In 1965, Atlantic released Wilson Pickett’s signature song “In the Midnight Hour,” topping the R&B charts.

Without a doubt, Atlantic Record’s most successful female singers of the 1960s were Aretha Franklin, who joined the label in 1966 after her contract at Columbia expired. With the help of producer Wexler, the gospel-reared singer became a worldwide sensation. She quickly rose to fame and was named as the Queen of Soul. After recording, Franklin brought seven consecutive singles that reached both the US Pop and Soul Top 10.

Despite its huge success, Wexler was seriously concerned about the disintegration of the old order of independent record companies. Fearing for Atlantic’s future, he wanted it to be sold to a larger company. Nesuhi Ertegun sided with Wexler, so Ahmet was obliged to agree to the sale.

In 1967, Warner Bros.-Seven Arts bought Atlantic Records for $17.5 million, though they later agreed that the amount greatly undervalued the worth of Atlantic Records. The new owners refused to relinquish ownership of the Stax masters, so the Atlantic’s distribution deal ended by May 1968.

After the takeover, Jerry’s influence in the company diminished. In 1968, Atlantic established its own subsidiary label Cotillion Records, which was formed as an outlet for blues and Southern soul. By 1976, the label focused on R&B and disco. The subsidiary label was also responsible for launching Luther Vandross’ career.

By 1969, Warner-Seven Arts were bought by Kinney National Service. Kinney combined all the record labels’ operations under the new holding company WEA, which is now known as Warner Music Group. Ertegun secured his powers at the company, and Atlantic was able to maintain autonomy to do their own marketing, while WEA handled the distribution.

In the 1970s, Atlantic achieved great success by signing rock bands like Led Zeppelin, Yes, Crosby, Stills & Nash (CSN), and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. By far, the most successful Atlantic vocal group of the 70s was The Spinners. By the late 1970s, Atlantic had the leading UK progressive group Genesis as a significant US act. Ertegun encouraged Genesis drummer and singer Phil Collins to branch out into a solo career, and as we know it, Phil Collins became famous on his own, though the road to his success did not come without difficulties.

From 1963 to 2001, ArifMardin was the in-house producer of Atlantic Records. He helped shape the sound of modern music today and was responsible for producing more than 40 platinum albums by artists like Louis Armstrong and David Bowie. Meanwhile, Wexler left Atlantic in 1975. In 1983, Ahmet Ertegun helped establish the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

In 2001, the label’s country music division was closed. In 2003, Time Warner sold Warner Music Group to a group of investors for $2.6 billion. The deal closed in 2004 and consolidated Atlantic and Elektra Records into one label operating in the eastern United States.

Popular Artists

Here are some of the most popular artists currently under Atlantic Records:

  • Ava Max
  • Ben Platt
  • Brett Eldredge
  • Bruno Mars
  • Cardi B
  • Charlie Puth
  • Christina Perri
  • Coldplay
  • Death Cab for Cutie
  • Ed Sheeran
  • Flo Rida
  • Gucci Mane
  • Hayley Willians
  • James Blunt
  • Jason Derulo
  • Jason Mraz
  • Justice
  • Kelly Clarkson
  • Marc Anthony
  • Matchbox Twenty
  • Paramore
  • Phil Collins
  • Rob Thomas
  • Sia
  • Skrillex
  • Twenty-One Pilots
  • Weezer
  • Wiz Khalifa
  • Young Thug
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