Music Executive Rick Blackburn Passes Away

Rick Blackburn, photographed Nov. 19, 1990 by Alan Mayor

Rick Blackburn, a Nashville record label chief for nearly two decades died on Friday, November 30 at his home in Franklin. He was 70 years old.

As the head of the Columbia and Epic imprints of CBS Records in 1980-87, he launched major hits for such stars as Ricky Skaggs, Rosanne Cash, Willie Nelson, Exile, Ricky Van Shelton, Merle Haggard, Chet Atkins, Vern Gosdin, Crystal Gayle, the Gatlins, Janie Fricke, Mickey Gilley, Moe Bandy, Joe Stampley, George Jones, Charly McClain, Lacy J. Dalton, Rodney Crowell and more.

While Blackburn was in charge of Atlantic Records in 1989-99, the label made radio stars of John Michael Montgomery, Neal McCoy, Confederate Railroad and Tracy Lawrence.

Richard Norman Blackburn was born Nov. 16, 1942 in Cincinnati, OH to Richard and Norma Horne Blackburn. He began his career promoting pop records in his hometown. He worked for Mercury Records in Chicago in 1965, then moved to CBS in New York in 1968.

Beginning in 1970, he helped run Ode Records with Lou Adler and Herb Alpert in Los Angeles. The company’s roster included Cheech & Chong, Carole King and Spirit. It also marketed the soundtrack to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Following another stint in New York, Blackburn moved to Nashville in 1974 to run Monument Records. He re-joined the CBS organization two years later and became its Nashville boss in 1980. During his tenure there, the company became the number-one label in country music.

Atlantic also prospered under his leadership, with both Montgomery and Lawrence becoming Platinum-selling artists. He remained a consultant with the label until it closed its Nashville office in 2001. Atlantic was revived as an imprint by Warner Bros. Records in 2008.

Blackburn was active in Leadership Music and the Country Music Association, where he served as Chairman of the CMA Board of Directors in 1982, and then President of the CMA in 1986.

David Ross of BossRoss Media recalls Blackburn fondly: “Rick’s unique leadership and passion for the industry left an indelible mark on Nashville. He was a remarkable man.”

“Rick was a dear friend and mentor,” adds Lawrence. “He was very instrumental in my career by signing me to my first record deal. We shared many great times together and those memories I will cherish forever.”

Blackburn is survived by his wife of 30 years, Suzanne “Suzie” McLellan Blackburn of Franklin, and brother Roger Blackburn of Kentucky.

The family will celebrate his life with private services near his childhood home in Cincinnati at a later date. There are no public services planned at this time. Friends can make memorial contributions in his honor to the charity of their choice. Heritage Funeral Home of Franklin is assisting the family. Read more or share condolences with the family here.

Rick Blackburn and Dolly Parton in 1988. Photo: Alan Mayor


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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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