NEW YORK (AP) – 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 a hospice in Sarasota, Fla., about 3:45 a.m. Friday of congenital 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.”

Wexler earned his reputation as a music industry giant while a partner at Atlantic Records with another legendary music figure, the late Ahmet Ertegun. Atlantic provided an outlet for the groundbreaking work of African-American performers in the 1950s and 1960s. Later, it was a home to rock icons like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. He later helped Dylan win his first Grammy by producing his 1979 “Slow Train Coming” album.

Wexler helped boost the careers of both the “King of Soul,” Charles, and the “Queen of Soul,” Franklin. Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke and Percy Sledge were among the other R&B greats who benefited from Wexler’s deft recording touch. He also produced Dusty Springfield’s classic “Dusty in Memphis,” considered a masterpiece of “blue-eyed” soul.

Burke said Wexler was the ultimate music man.

In the studio, Wexler was a hands-on producer. Once, during a session with Charles, the tambourine player was off the beat. Wexler, in his award-winning autobiography, recalled grabbing the instrument and playing it himself.

“Who’s that?” asked Charles.

“Me,” Wexler told the blind singer.

“You got it, baby!” Charles said.

The son of Polish immigrants and a music buff since his teens, Wexler landed a job writing for Billboard magazine in the late 1940s after serving in World War II and studying journalism in college. There he coined the term “rhythm and blues” for the magazine’s black music charts; previously, they were listed under “race records.”

While working at Billboard, Wexler befriended Ertegun – a life-altering friendship for both.

Ertegun and a partner had started Atlantic, then a small R&B label in New York. In 1953, when Ertegun’s partner left for a two-year military hitch, Wexler stepped in as the label’s co-director.

He never left.


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