Visitation for family, friends and colleagues will be held Sun., June 17, from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Country Music Hall of Fame, where Mrs. Preston will lie in repose in the Rotunda.
A private funeral will take place at First Lutheran Church, with a private graveside service and burial to follow at Nashville’s Landmark Spring Hill Cemetery. Spring Hill Funeral Home & Cemetery (5110 Gallatin Road, 615-865-1101) is handling the arrangements.
Active pallbearers will be Tom Annastas, Devoran Atwood, Fred Cannon, Dennis DiTraglia, Buckland Farnor, Dr. David Hansen, Bobby Kelley, Stan Moress, Roger Sovine and Harry Warner. Honorary pallbearers are Phil Graham, Mike O’Neill, Alison Smith, Faye Smith and Jody Williams.
Memorial contributions may be made to the T. J. Martell Foundation (15 Music Sq. W., Nashville, TN 37203, 615-256-2002); or the Frances Williams Preston Laboratories at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (2301 Vanderbilt Place, c/o Gifts Processing PMB 407727, Nashville, TN 37240-7727, 615-936-0233).
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Legendary music executive Frances Williams Preston died June 13, at 4 a.m. She passed peacefully at home from congestive heart failure. She was 83.
Preston served as President and CEO of BMI from 1986 until 2004. She founded the company’s Nashville office, initially working from her parent’s home as a young woman. That led to a six-decade career with the performing rights organization, where she headed Nashville operations and later served as president of the company headquartered in New York. Preston retired from BMI in 2004 and returned to Nashville full time in 2007.
Del Bryant, BMI’s current President & CEO, says, “Frances Williams Preston was a force of nature. She was smart, beautiful, tenacious, and generous. She put BMI on the culture map and shaped the careers of many—especially mine. Though we mourn the loss of a great leader and friend, she lives on through a legacy that is literally set in stone. The BMI Nashville building and her wing at Vanderbilt Hospital and are two monuments that were erected by her and stand in tribute to her passion and drive for those she loved. God speed, dear friend.”
She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992, and later became a member of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame.
Born in Nashville on August 27, 1928, Frances Williams began her career as a receptionist at WSM, Nashville’s iconic radio station. She rose quickly through the station’s ranks, eventually hosting her own fashion show on air.
According to a recent article by Kay West in the Nashville City Paper, Preston was in college studying to become a teacher when she took a summer job with National Life Insurance, owner of WSM and the Grand Ole Opry. She went on to become the radio station’s receptionist. Through that role she met Bob Burton, Senior VP of BMI in New York, during his frequent business trips to Nashville, and he tapped her in 1958 to open the organization’s Southern regional office.
By 1964 she had elevated to Vice President. BMI’s vital base of operations in Nashville helped pave the way for the city’s future as the world’s most important center for professional songwriting. In 1985, she rose to Senior Vice President, Performing Rights, and was named President and CEO the following year.
According to Jody Williams, BMI, VP Writer/Publisher Relations, Nashville, “Frances Preston helped shape the music business ecosystem through her profound respect for songwriters and mentorship of several generations of executives. She is without a doubt the single most important figure responsible for making Nashville ‘Music City.'”
She was the first female executive on Nashville’s fledgling Music Row, joining BMI shortly before her friend, Jo Walker-Meador, was named to lead the Country Music Association. Preston became the first woman to serve as board chairman of the CMA. She was reportedly the first female corporate executive in Tennessee. She continued paving the way for women throughout her life. Preston was the first non-performing woman invited to join New York’s prestigious Friar’s Club, and in 1993 she became the first woman appointed to its board of directors.
Preston was a driven and devoted advocate for songwriters and their rights. Kris Kristofferson dubbed her the “songwriter’s guardian angel.” She was a powerful force in Washington, D.C., where she testified on the behalf of songwriters and played an instrumental role in several key initiatives, including the Copyright Amendments Act of 1992, which extended copyright protection to older compositions. She was also a leading supporter of the decision to extend the copyright term to life of the composer plus 70 years.
Preston served as a member of the Panama Canal Study Committee as well as on the commission for the White House Record Library during the administration of President Jimmy Carter. In 1995 and 1996, she was a member of Vice President Al Gore’s National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council.
She was a devoted community servant, working as president of the board of directors of the T. J. Martell Foundation for Leukemia, Cancer and AIDS Research. The Frances Williams Preston Research Laboratories at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center is named in her honor.
In 1998, she received a National Trustees Award from the Recording Academy (the highest Grammy prize for a non-performer), MIDEM’s Person of the Year accolade in 1999 (the highest international award accorded to a music industry executive), the National Association of Broadcasters’ Education Foundation Guardian Award in 2005, Leadership Music’s Dale Franklin Award in 2007, and the Nashville Songwriter Foundation’s Mentor Award in 2010. Last year, the Library of American Broadcasting Association named her to its elite Giants of Broadcasting honoree ranks, and BMI rechristened the BMI Country Song of the Year the BMI Frances W. Preston Award.
“We’ve lost our beloved Frances Preston,” said Dolly Parton. “She was the heart of BMI, not only for me but for every BMI writer. She was a great leader and a great friend to us all. Frances, you were very loved and you will be truly missed.”
Survivors include three sons William Kirk Preston, David J. Preston and wife Emily, and Donald L. Preston, all of Nashville; six grandchildren, Taylor Preston, Lindsey Preston, Jake Preston, Matthew Preston, Stuart Preston, and Frannie Daughrity and husband Brent; and great-granddaughter, Preston Rose Daughrity.