Wexler, Jerry 1917-2008 (Gerald Wexler)

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Wexler, Jerry 1917-2008 (Gerald Wexler)


See index for CA sketch: Born January 10, 1917, in Bronx, NY; died of congestive heart failure, August 15, 2008, in Sarasota, FL. Journalist, record producer, recording industry executive, and author. Wexler was no musician, but he had an instinct for musical excellence that guided dozens of recording artists to the pinnacle of their profession. His specialty came to be known as "rhythm and blues," but his influence spread far beyond the genre that he had created when he coined that phrase as early as 1949 or 1950. Wexler was working as a writer for the trade magazine Billboard at the time, but he did not stay there long. In 1953 he joined Atlantic Records, as a vice president, partner, and record producer for artists like the Drifters. When rhythm and blues began its evolution toward rock and roll in the 1960s, Wexler moved in a different direction, toward the gospel-inspired, jazz-influenced sound of "soul music" that was emerging from Tennessee and the Deep South, especially Muscle Shoals, Alabama. He worked with performers who became legends in the musical world, such as Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Wilson Pickett, and some of them have said it was Wexler's instinct for excellence and ear for a winning sound that helped them reach the height of popularity that their talent warranted. He was praised for the wisdom to recognize and enhance the qualities that made performers unique, instead of molding them into his own vision of perfection. He did not just record their music, but transformed the studio recording process into an art form in its own right. Wexler, a white man with no religious faith or musical talent of his own, was credited with integrating soul music, once the domain of black performers, into the mainstream of American music. Wexler left Atlantic Records in 1975, but his work continued. In the 1970s and 1980s he extended his reach further into the recording industry, working with Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, and other artists. Wexler was known for his volatile temper, but was respected for the tenacity with which he promoted the most talented musical artists of the era of soul, providing a legacy for those who would follow. Though he never embraced rock and roll as his favored musical genre, Wexler was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. Five years later he wrote his autobiography, Rhythm and the Blues: A Life in American Music.



Wexler, Jerry, Rhythm and the Blues: A Life in American Music, Knopf (New York, NY), 1993.


Chicago Tribune, August 16, 2008, sec. 1, p. 20.

Los Angeles Times, August 16, 2008, p. B6.

New York Times, August 16, 2003, p. B20.

Times (London, England), August 18, 2008, p. 52.


Immaculate Funk (documentary film), 2000.