The Life and Times of Ahmet Ertegun

Ahmet Ertegun

“Blues and Gospel – American Black Music – is the
fountainhead of all of the 20th Century Pop music.”

~Ahmet Ertegun

“Black music became the music of the world.  Every country has wonderful music.
There is beautiful music in Spain, in Italy, in Hungary, in Austria, in Russia, in Ireland and in France, but there is only one music that travels everywhere,
and that’s black American music.”
~Ahmet Ertegun

The Last Sultan: The Life and Times of Ahmet Ertegun by Robert Greenfield is a phenomenal biography, so much so that I literally couldn’t put it down, resulting in more than a few nights of falling asleep with book in hand.

The life and times of Ahmet Ertegun is not just a remarkable book – well written and captivating – but also a story worth telling.  The author’s light and breezy style makes this a fun read, and his story-telling style is as delightful and amusing as an Ahmet Ertegun anecdote.

A son of the first Turkish Ambassador to the United States, Ahmet Ertegun came to the U.S. at the cusp of his teenage years, in his words “to what I thought was the land of Jazz”.  Greenfields book follows the journey of the young Turkish boy and his love of what he called “American black music”.

As a youth, he would sneak from the Turkish Embassy and head to Harlem to hear Duke Ellington and other Jazz greats, and as a young adult he would (with help) found Atlantic Records, signing a parade of artists like Ruth Brown, Ray Charles, John Coltrane, Sonny & Cher, Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Cream, Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones to the famed record label.

What author Robert Greenfield’s book excels at is story-telling, something Ahmet Ertegun was famous for.  Coincidentally, the stories Ahmet loved to tell most were about his self, so I imagine he would have loved this book.

Praise of this book aside, it’s an important and historical piece of work.  Ahmet Ertegun was a remarkable and outstanding figure in both what he called “American black music” and American popular music in general.  Ahmet was invaluably instrumental in bringing black music to white audiences while helping to shape the physical media industry in the latter half of the 20th Century.

If you love the behind-the-scenes stories of sex, drugs, money and the music industry, you can be sure a book about the life and times of Ahmet Ertegun has it all and then some. Robert Greenfield’s biography delivers a fun ride into the record business of the late 20th Century, with Ahmet at the wheel.


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