A concert that pays tribute to the Atlantic Records story is coming to the Atlanta History Center.
Presented through a collaboration between Neranenah (formerly the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival) and ATL Collective, “On & Off The Records: The Music of Atlantic Records” is set for Jan. 28 at the center’s McElreath Hall at 8 p.m.
This is the second version of this type of event, said Neranenah Executive Director Joe Alterman. The first told the story of Chess Records, and this time the concert will be diving deep into Atlantic Records, the label behind voices such as Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and Otis Redding.
This is not the first time ATL Collective and Neranenah have partnered up for a concert, Alterman said. In the past, they’ve held concerts where they’ve highlighted numerous Jewish musicians, from Billy Joel to Beastie Boys. But when Alterman came on as executive director in 2018, he decided to change things up. With “On & Off The Records,” the focus will be on Jewish-owned labels, like Atlantic, and the music they produced. While the first concert focused on the more contentious story of Chess Records, Alterman said what drew him to the Atlantic story was the collaboration.
“I’ve always been fascinated with the record business in America,” Alterman said. “So much of the great Black music, or soul music, or funk music, or jazz – all the stuff that we basically can’t imagine America without – was pretty much founded by or preserved and documented by Jewish-owned record labels.”
One of the reasons Atlerman said the Atlantic story interested him was the fact that the label was founded by Herb Abramson, a Jewish man from Brooklyn, and Ahmet Ertegun, who was Turkish-American. Alterman said the story told during the concert will not focus so much on Abramson, but rather Ertegun along with famous producer Jerry Wexler, who came onto Atlantic in 1953.
Alterman said he has a lot of personal interest in Wexler as a cultural figure. While the term “rhythm and blues” had been used in the lexicon as early as 1943, Wexler is credited with officially coining the term in 1948.
“One thing I really admire about [Wexler] is the fact that, before he came around, Black music was really referred to as ‘race music,’” Alterman said. “He hated that. So he’s the person who came up with the term rhythm and blues.”
Wexler had a great influence on the careers of many artists, notably Aretha Franklin, who recorded many of her biggest hits – including “Respect” – with Atlantic and Wexler. With Wexler, Franklin began to more strongly embrace her gospel roots.
Alterman was adamant that the music is the most important thing, and someone as talented as Aretha Franklin would have probably found success with or without Wexler. But he loved the idea of Wexler and Franklin building up enough of a collaborative effort to create something great.
“I never want it to seem like the record label owners are more important than the music,” Alterman said. “These people just helped [the artists] along … just think of all the music that would not have been documented and preserved if it wasn’t for labels like this.”
Stories like that of Wexler and Franklin are what audiences can expect from the show, Alterman said.
“I just love highlighting great music of course, but also a really interesting story that if you’re a music fan you probably don’t know about,” Alterman said. “That’s where we got ‘On and Off the Record.’ On the record is the music, off the record is the stuff behind it.”
The show will include performances from a band interwoven with spoken word-like monologues from poet and rapper Adán Bean. Musicians include Robby Handley, Ansley Stewart, Brenda Nicole Moorer, Cleveland Jones, Charles LaMont, Nick Johnson, and Alterman himself.
Alterman said that originally, this particular show was meant to be performed on March 12, 2020. With the COVID-19 pandemic, that obviously didn’t happen. But Alterman said he thinks the timing worked out in the end.
“So much has happened since March 12, 2020,” Alterman said. “Not just the pandemic, but also everything with George Floyd and that movement, and the rising anti semitism that I definitely feel these days. I think this story really speaks to the power of not only how much we can do when we come together, but also just to let people know that American music has been shaped by people coming together.”
If you miss this event, no worries – Alterman said Neranenah and ATL Collective hope to put on shows like this twice a year moving forward.
“These stories are kind of unlimited,” he said. “This is hopefully the beginning of something really great.”
Tickets can be purchased here.