Spirit in the Dark

Jerry Wexler was the legendary Atlantic Records executive who worked with artists including Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin (Wexler produced 14 albums for Franklin on Atlantic). I paid tribute to Wexler when he died earlier this month in “A record man for the ages, RIP.” Last week the Wall Street Journal’s Jim Fusilli called on Franklin to help him pay tribute to Wexler. At the end of his remembrance, Fusilli captures Wexler uniting his livelihood with his passion in a way that we can only admire:

[F]or most of his career, he eschewed the fast lane and enjoyed hosting musicians, disc jockeys and other industry people at his home in Great Neck, N.Y., grilling steaks while he and his guests talked about, and listened to, R&B, blues and soul music. “He knew how to mix business and fun,” Ms. Franklin told me, mentioning how Wexler and his first wife, Shirley, welcomed her to their home. With a tug in her voice, she said: “What a good time we had. What a gentleman he was.”

In 1971, Ms. Franklin was performing at the Fillmore East with a band led by King Curtis. Ray Charles came from the wings and joined them onstage for a version of “Spirit in the Dark.” In his autobiography, Wexler said he witnessed “two geniuses from two distinct periods in my life, merging so easily, so naturally, so inevitably.” He added, “All I could do was sit there and weep.”

I can’t find a video of Charles and Franklin performing “Spirit in the Dark” together, but this video of Franklin performing the song provides a glimpse of what moved Wexler.

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