Remembering Miriam Bienstock, Music's OG Entrepreneur

The co-founder of Atlantic Records ran the business side of the now-giant company and laid the groundwork for the nascent recording industry. She died on March 21 at age 92. 

In 1947, Miriam Bienstock joined with her husband at the time, Herb Abramson, and their friend Ahmet Ertegun to start their own record label. The Abramsons threw in $2,500 to get the company started, and Ergegun’s dentist chipped in $10,000, the New York Times writes.

While Abramson was in charge of the recording and Ertegun served as chief talent scout, Miriam Bienstock handled everything else, managing the office, arranging record jacket designs, and collecting payments. Ertegun admitted in a 1997 interview with Billboard magazine, “She is unheralded, unrecognized, but if we hadn’t had her in those developing years, the company would have folded. She also had very good taste in music.” 

As they grew, Atlantic represented ABBA, Aretha Franklin, and Bette Midler, among a full roster of legendary talents. It’s now the home of many powerhouse female performers like Charli XCX, Janelle Monae, and Lykke Li.

When Bienstock and Abramson divorced in the 50s and he left the company, she acquired his shares and took over the company’s music publishing arm. She was one of few women in the record business at the time, and she wasn’t afraid to lay down the law (or break a few when she needed to): businessmen who worked with her reportedly called her “Dragon Lady,” and she was part of the common early-years practice of bribing radio stations and DJs to play specific songs on the air.

Even if she broke a few rules, she set a positive precedent: Julie Greenwald is Atlantic Record’s current co-chair and COO. In a letter to the company following Beinstock’s passing, Greenwald wrote Beinstock was “a force to be reckoned with — smart, tenacious, and fierce when necessary…she paved the way for a whole generation of women in our industry.”


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Photo: Herb and Miriam, via Library of Congress