Arif Mardin

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A Tribute to the Master

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

It's important to remember where you came from, and who brought you there. My road into adulthood was carried by many of the songs that Arif Mardin helped create. He was the long-time in-house producer at Atlantic Records and his gift for recognizing talent, and nurturing the purest sound is legendary. Arif Mardin died on Sunday at the age of 74.

He's stood behind the controls for over four decades, earning over 40 gold and platinum albums. That's an extraordinary accomplishment for a producer. Not only that, he won those awards as early as 1975 and as late as 2002.

The role of a producer largely goes unrecognized to the general public, as the performer is most often credited for the work. But a producer's expertise can add the missing ingredient that pulls the artist's sound into focus, and gives a song or album the urgency it needs to connect with the audience. They add the body, weight and soul to many records.

He started at Atlantic as a staff arranger and producer, overseeing the recording session, soup to nuts. He came from the old school of recording production, collaborating closely with the artist in the studio on the central issue of song selection and giving the song the needed presence in recording. Mr. Mardin was well-known for his accomplished composing of musical arrangements and sometimes, he would be called in, to engineer a record as well. Engineering music is a highly technical role, turning the hundreds of knobs on a sound board to help the producer to get just the right sound.

He co-produced his first number-one single with Jerry Wexler for The Rascals in the early 60's. The song was Good Lovin. He was so beloved by The Rascals that he was deemed the unofficial fifth member by the band. His easy nature and generous style served him well in the studio and artists like Aretha Franklin, Bette Midler and Chaka Khan repeatedly worked with him. In fact, Arif Mardin's credits read like a who's who of the music world. In the 60's he produced many of Aretha's masterpieces, including Respect, as well as Dusty Springfield's definitive, Son of a Preacher Man, and the heartbreaking Judy Collins' version of Send in the Clowns. Add Laura Nyro and Isaac Hayes to that list as well. In the 70's he worked with the Bee Gees, John Prine, Barbra Streisand and Hall & Oates.

In the 80's, the recording process began a seismic change with the emergence of digital technology and the techniques in making records changed dramatically. Mardin kept up with the changes, though always focusing on the artists' brilliance first. Two of his biggest hits came in the 80's with work he did with Chaka Khan for I Feel for You and Bette Midler's Wind Beneath My Wings.

In the 90's, Mr. Mardin worked with artists like the Smashing Pumpkins, Everything but the Girl and Jewel.

Then just after the turn of the millennium, Mr. Mardin produced the breakthrough record by Norah Jones, Come Away With Me. It was a huge success worldwide.

And equally as interesting, despite his tremendous success, he was always known as a graceful gentleman. His vision will be missed.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.