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Miriam Bienstock dead; music industry pioneer helped found Atlantic Records

Miriam Bienstock, who helped found Atlantic Records and ran the business side of the fledgling label as it became an industry leader during the rise of rock and roll, died Saturday at her home in Manhattan. She was 92.

Bienstock became one of a handful of pioneering female music industry executives when she and her then-husband, Herb Abramson, joined with Ahmet Ertegun in 1947 to start Atlantic Records. She managed production and finances for the New York- based company as it mined an untapped market for black performers including Ruth Brown and Ray Charles.

"I didn't feel like a pioneer," Bienstock said, according to "Record Makers and Breakers," John Broven's 2009 book. "I felt I was doing my job." By 1959, when its artists included the Coasters, the Drifters and Bobby Darin, sales climbed to $1 million a month, Broven wrote.

As Atlantic's business manager, Bienstock handled payments to artists, record production and negotiated foreign agreements, Broven wrote. In 1958, Billboard profiled her in an article under the headline, "Atlantic's 'Money Man' Is a Woman." The trade publication noted that Bienstock "is one of the few women executives in the record industry, a business heretofore noted for its lack of fem talent."

Bienstock had a formidable reputation that she later attributed to safeguarding Atlantic's shaky finances in the early days. "If the distributors didn't pay their bills, I was very nasty," she said, according to "The Last Sultan: The Life and Times of Ahmet Ertegun," by Robert Greenfield.

She left Atlantic and in 1964 sold her stake in the business to Ertegun and the other owners. Bienstock shifted her focus to theater. Most recently, she was an investor in the current Broadway production of "Beautiful: The Carol King Musical," which last year won two Tony Awards.

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