By Amy Ryan
Updated August 18, 2008 at 12:00 PM EDT
Credit: AP

Jerry Wexler didn’t invent rhythm & blues music, though he is credited with coining the term. The influential label exec and producer, who died Friday at 91, was instrumental in helping to popularize R&B in general and the careers of some of its greatest practitioners, from Ray Charles to Otis Redding to Aretha Franklin. Starting at Atlantic Records in the ’50s, he was present when Charles invented modern soul music with “I Got a Woman.” He signed a distribution deal with a small Memphis label that allowed it to grow into Stax, the ’60s home of Redding, Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes, and other soul greats. He popularized the use of the FAME Studio in Muscle Shoals, Ala. (name-checked in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama”) by recording Aretha Franklin’s landmark album I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You in 1967 — simultaneously rescuing the future Queen of Soul from a doldrum career singing jazz-pop standards. He went on to sign groups as diverse as Led Zeppelin, Dire Straits, and the B-52s, and to produce for Bob Dylan, Etta James, Kim Carnes, and George Michael. Others he worked with included Dusty Springfield (on her classic Dusty in Memphis album), Wilson Pickett, and Willie Nelson. He told the story of his life in music in a 1993 memoir, Rhythm and the Blues: The Life in American Music, though that story could as easily be summarized in this terrific YouTube playlist. Really, all you need to know — and all you need to hear to recognize Wexler’s claim to immortality, is the four-minute clip after the jump.

addCredit(“Jerry Wexler: AP”)