Guest Editorial: Hazel Smith Salutes Renee Bell

Contributed by Hazel Smith

I am humbly proud that I introduced Joe Galante to Renee Bell. They became the most successful A&R team in Nashville. Renee was the first and only female Executive Vice President of A&R—thanks to Galante, who always gave women their due. She was employed at the label, originally RCA, now Sony, in excess of 15 years.

But no longer.

It was years ago, but I’ll never forget the day Renee called me to come to her office which was located then just beyond CMA. As usual, I just walked in. She smiled, slid a tape into the machine and played “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.” Songwriter Paul Overstreet was singing the demo but I knew it was a Kenny Chesney smash. My very words, “That song will be the curve in the road for Kenny. Superstar time!” Chesney has scored 21 No. 1 hits that she found or approved. She also worked directly with Carrie Underwood, Brooks & Dunn, Sara Evans, Martina McBride, Alan Jackson, Jake Owen and Josh Thompson as well as overseeing all projects for the entire roster in her position as head of the A&R department.

Veteran A&R executive Renee Bell

Besides “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy,” other songs that Renee helped place includes “Jesus, Take the Wheel” and “Before He Cheats” for Underwood, “Ain’t Nothing ‘Bout You” for Brooks & Dunn, and as of late “Man I Want To Be” for Chris Young along with many, many others.

This past week Music Row publishers have contacted Renee to thank her for changing the lives of their artists and songwriters by placing hundreds of songs on Sony Records. Females up and down Music Row talk about what a role model she has been for women in the business.

Beginning her A&R career at MCA with Tony Brown, Renee along with Tony was responsible for signing The Mavericks and David Lee Murphy. Always in the trenches finding hits and placing them with George Jones, Conway Twitty, George Strait, Reba McEntire, Wynonna Judd, as well as many others, she held this position for eight years. Jimmy Bowen made her a Vice President at Capitol and it was Renee who first recognized the talent of songwriting great Casey Beathard.

I’m guessing it was about a year ago when Renee told me she was thinking about exploring other creative opportunities at the end of her contract.

A couple weeks ago we ran into Harry Chapman and Buddy Cannon when we met for lunch. She was so excited about working with Ronnie Dunn this past year on his debut solo album. When she told me about Jake Owen’s new record they’d just finished she was just as excited and equally excited about getting started on Josh Thompson’s sophomore album. She felt Jake and Josh were poised to finally have their moment. With the same Renee excitement, she told me about Bradley Gaskin that John Rich brought to her and Kristen Kelly, a new act that Paul Overstreet had discovered in Texas, and Casey James. When I spoke with her a couple days ago she stressed how much she hated not being a part of their careers, but is so very proud and excited for all of them.

Nobody on planet earth or Music Row loves or respects songwriters and artists more than Renee Bell.  Lord knows she dearly loves to find those killer songs.

Renee Bell with Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride and Chris Young at the People Country Issue celebration party at Nashville's Hutton Hotel in August 2009. Pictured (l-r): Young; Lambert; Lisa Ramsey-Perkins, Sony Sr. Dir. A&R; McBride; and Bell.


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