The dynamic music magnate who was a founder of Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun discovered, signed, and produced many of the most influential performers of the 20th century, including Ray Charles, John Coltrane, Aretha Franklin, Bette Midler, Cream, the Bee Gees, and the Rolling Stones. He was also a founder of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum (to which he was inducted in 1987), was honored by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, and was named a “Living Legend” by the United States Library of Congress in 2000. “Fewer people have had a bigger impact on the record industry than Ahmet,” entertainment mogul David Geffen—who credits Ertegun with starting him in the business—told The New York Times in December 2006, “and no one loved American music more than he did.”
It seems only natural that a new Juilliard scholarship will carry the name of one of the most prominent figures in jazz and popular music. The Ahmet Ertegun Memorial Scholarship, generously established by the American Turkish Society, was officially announced in December on the first anniversary of his death.
Ertegun was born in Istanbul and moved to the United States at the age of 12 when his father, Mehmet Munir Ertegun, became the Turkish ambassador to the United States. He once said that he fell in love with music at age 9, when his older brother took him to see the Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway Orchestras in London in 1932. Equally at home in blues clubs and dives as he was at society soirées, Ertegun was an astute judge of talent and had an ear for authentic, soulful music that could appeal to a more mainstream audience.
Though he abandoned his original intention to follow his father into diplomatic service for a career in the music industry, Ertegun nevertheless worked throughout his life to strengthen ties between Turkey and the U.S. He was chairman of the American Turkish Society for many years and founded Turkish studies departments at Princeton University and Georgetown University (where he took graduate courses in medieval philosophy after earning a bachelor’s degree at St. John’s College in Annapolis). “Nobody has, or ever will, do what he did for Turkey in the United States,” Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul was quoted by The New York Times as saying at Ertegun’s funeral in Istanbul.
The Ahmet Ertegun Memorial Scholarship will be designated for music students of Turkish descent at The Juilliard School.