Donna Hilley Passes

MusicRow extends its condolences to family and friends of former Sony/ATV Nashville President and CEO Donna Hilley, who died today (6/20) in Nashville after an extended illness. One of Music Row’s most prominent female executives, she spent 31 years working with Sony/ATV.

A native of Birmingham, Alabama, Hilley began her career at WKDA, where Tree International founder Jack Stapp was program director. She departed the station after eight years to become the assistant to the president of a Nashville advertising/PR firm. She was there another eight years before rejoining Stapp at Tree International.

Hilley was named EVP and COO of Tree International in 1978, and the company was purchased by Sony in 1989. Hilley negotiated the purchase and assumed the role of President and CEO in 1994. Under her leadership the company made major acquisitions such as Acuff-Rose, Little Big Town, Maypop, and the catalogs of Conway Twitty, Buck Owens, and Merle Haggard.

An active leader in the business community, Hilley served on the board of directors for both ASCAP and the NMPA, as well as the Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, the Country Music Association, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, the Gospel Music Association, and the Recording Academy.

Donna Hilley (R) poses with former ASCAP Sr. VP Connie Bradley (L) and Ronnie Milsap at a charity dance themed around Milsap’s song “Lost In the Fifties Tonight.” Photo: Alan Mayor

Entertainment Weekly ranked her No. 4 in its “Ten Most Powerful People in Country Music” in 1992. Belmont University honored her with its first ever Robert E. Mulloy Award of Excellence shortly after her retirement in 2005. She became a member of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1999.

“Donna Hilley’s influence on Music Row’s artists and songwriters and on the broader Nashville community could never fully be expressed with words,” said Troy Tomlinson, President and CEO of Sony/ATV Nashville. “She was an icon in every sense – an inspiring trailblazer for women executives in the music business, a staunch advocate for artists and songwriters and a genuine competitor who was respected, but never underestimated, by her peers. Sony/ATV is forever better because of Donna’s leadership and immeasurable contributions. Our artists, writers and staff grieve today along with her family on the passing of a compassionate leader and great friend.”

Visitation is scheduled for Friday evening (6/22) at Woodlawn Funeral Home. Funeral service is set for Saturday morning (6/23), 11 am at Forest Hills Baptist Church.

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