Arif Mardin, the Turkish-American record producer who was one of the most successful and artistically significant behind-the-scenes figures in popular music in the past half- century, died Sunday at his home in New York City. He was 74.
An arranger and composer as well as a producer, Mardin was a guiding force behind hit records by many pop luminaries, most notably Aretha Franklin, the Bee Gees, Bette Midler, Chaka Khan and Norah Jones, whose careers he was instrumental in shaping. Winner of 12 Grammys, including two for best producer, nonclassical (in 1976 and 2003), he was a major architect of the pop-soul style nicknamed the Atlantic Sound in the late 1960s.
That influential style was a three-way collaboration with his fellow Atlantic Records producers Jerry Wexler and Tom Dowd; Mardin was the arranger of the three. It resulted in a series of stirring groundbreaking pop-gospel albums that catapulted the career of the young Aretha Franklin out of the doldrums and earned her the nickname Queen of Soul. The same basic formula of recording with Southern musicians was successfully applied to a number of other artists, most notably Dusty Springfield in her classic "Dusty in Memphis" album.
Out of the Atlantic Sound grew the sophisticated mainstream style of rhythm and blues made by white musicians that he developed working with artists like Daryl Hall and John Oates, Average White Band and the Bee Gees that was labeled "blue-eyed soul." His work with the Bee Gees reignited their stalled career and directly influenced their score for "Saturday Night Fever."
His association with Atlantic, which was founded by his fellow Turks Ahmet Ertegun and his brother Nesuhi, began in 1963 and lasted for nearly four decades until he retired in 2001. He then began a new corporate relationship as senior vice president and co-general manager of the EMI label Manhattan Records. His first project there was producing Jones's debut album, "Come Away With Me." He was also co-producer of its hit follow-up, "Feels Like Home."
Some of his hits as a producer include "Jive Talkin'" (the Bee Gees), "Send in the Clowns" (Judy Collins) and "Against All Odds" (Phil Collins).