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Legendary producer Arif Mardin dies at 74

Music exec worked with Aretha Franklin, Bee Gees, Norah Jones
/ Source: Billboard

Arif Mardin, the legendary producer/arranger whose career spanned landmark recordings from Aretha Franklin to the Bee Gees to Norah Jones, died Sunday in New York. Mardin was 74 and had been suffering from pancreatic cancer for about a year.

Born in 1932 into a prominent family in Istanbul, Mardin attended the London School of Economics, but it was a lucky meeting in 1956 in Turkey with Dizzy Gillespie and Quincy Jones that led to his decision to attend the Berklee School of Music in Boston. He graduated from Berklee in 1961. Nesuhi Ertegun, a fellow Turk whom he met at the Newport Jazz Festival, brought him to Atlantic Records two years later.

At Atlantic, Mardin took his lessons about engineering and producing from a team of in-house giants that included Ahmet Ertegun, Jerry Wexler and Tom Dowd. Mardin originally wanted to be a big-band arranger, but he caught the pop bug in 1965 while co-producing the Rascals with Dowd. In the coming decades, he produced hits for a remarkable array of Atlantic artists, including Franklin, Average White Band, Phil Collins, Hall & Oates, Roberta Flack, Brook Benton and Dusty Springfield.

In the mid-'70s, Mardin helped the Bee Gees redefine their sound and revive their career with the album "Main Course," which included the No. 1 hit "Jive Talkin'."

Mardin showed great diversity, with successes ranging from Bette Midler's sweeping ballads "From a Distance" and "Wind Beneath My Wings" to Chaka Khan's funky "I Feel For You." He also produced memorable folk albums for John Prine, jazz albums for Eddie Harris, Herbie Mann and Charles Lloyd and country sets for Willie Nelson.

Mardin remained at Atlantic until 2001, rising to senior vice president. Shortly after retiring from the label, he re-emerged as co-VP/general manager of EMI's revived Manhattan label under Blue Note chief Bruce Lundvall. It was at EMI that Mardin put the final crescendo on his career, co-producing Norah Jones' breakthrough Blue Note album "Come Away With Me."

"Come Away With Me" won Grammys for album of the year and record of the year in 2003 and earned Mardin honors as producer of the year. He also produced Jones' "Feels Like Home," which sold 1.02 million units in its debut week in February 2004.

According to his official biography, Mardin collected close to 60 gold and platinum albums and won 12 Grammy Awards. In 1990, he was inducted into the Recording Academy's Hall of Fame. No announcement has yet been made about funeral arrangements.