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He Coined the Term “Rhythm and Blues”

January 10, 2018

Jerry Wexler, who, as a reporter for Billboard Magazine in 1948, coined the term “rhythm and blues” (as a replacement for the offensive “race records”) and who later, as a music producer, recorded some of R&B’s greatest performers, was born on this date in 1917 in New York. The “acts” Wexler signed or produced included Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, the Allman Brothers, the Drifters, Wilson Pickett, Led Zeppelin, Dusty Springfield, Dire Straits, the B-52s, and Bob Dylan. Working on Dylan’s evangelical Slow Train Coming album (1979), Wexler said that he enjoyed “the irony of Bob coming to me, the Wandering Jew, to get the Jesus feel. . . . ‘Bob,’ I said, ‘you’re dealing with a 62-year-old confirmed Jewish atheist. I’m hopeless. Let’s just make an album.’” Becoming a partner in Atlantic Records in 1953, Wexler helped build the label into a major musical force and was also critical in the development of the Muscle Shoals Studio. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, he made it into his nineties and died in 2008. Wexler was posthumously inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame in 2017. (See below for a 1990s interview with Wexler by Terry Gross of public radio’s “Fresh Air.”)

“Two words: ‘More bass.’” —Jerry Wexler, in response to an interviewer’s question, “What do you want written on your tombstone?”