Ageless, hip, erudite, caustic, lovable, tough and hypnotic: Jerry Wexler, who died Aug. 15 at 91, was a one-of-a-kind great man of music. Before helping shape the sound of the second half of the 20th century, he was the Billboard reporter who coined rhythm and blues to replace the category "race music" on the magazine's charts. With Ahmet Ertegun, he co-piloted Atlantic Records, once saying the label made "black music for black adults." But that underestimated the impact of the classics he produced--Aretha Franklin's Respect, Percy Sledge's When a Man Loves a Woman, Wilson Pickett's In the Midnight Hour and The Genius of Ray Charles. When I was president of Columbia Records in the late 1960s and early '70s, signing Janis Joplin, Santana and Earth, Wind & Fire, I knew I had come of age after Jerry reached out to spend time with me. We became friends. I would go to his house in East Hampton and listen to records and marvel at his commentary, always colorful, always mesmerizing and always smart. Artists from every genre would join us, but it was Jerry with his laugh, lexicon and turns of phrase who held center stage. He might have been the elder statesman among us, but when the music played, the years swept away and his youthful enthusiasm bubbled over. Music can lift the soul, change the mood, teach the mind and touch the heart. And the music Jerry Wexler produced will live on, affecting future generations in ways he never thought possible.
Davis is the chief creative officer at Sony BMG