Numerous music industry elite turned out Tuesday evening (Sept. 24) to celebrate seven women whose careers have made and continue to make an impact on the music industry. Hosted by Jeannie Seely, the 11th Annual SOURCE Awards were held at Nashville’s Musician’s Hall of Fame and Museum. Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and Marsha Blackburn were both on hand to congratulate the honorees; Seely’s previously announced co-host Brenda Lee could not attend.
As attendees were wined and dined, the evening focused on the honorees including Bebe Evans, who has worked with the Charlie Daniels Band for more than 30 years, along with positions at BMI and Sound Seventy Corporation; Debi Fleischer-Robin (Robin Enterprises, Columbia/Sony Records, United Artists Records, Crystal Gayle); Bonnie Garner (Rothbaum and Garner, CBS Records, Dick Cavett Show), Donna Hilley (posthumously), who spearheaded Sony/ATV Publishing, Gerrie McDowell (Gerrieco Texas, Curb Records, Capitol Records), Paula Szeigis (who also spent most of her career working with The Charlie Daniels Band, along with Sound Seventy Corporation), and Sarah Trahern (Great American Country, TNN, C-Span).
Szeigis and Evans were feted by longtime boss Charlie Daniels via video. “Three women run my life,” said Daniels. “My wife, Paula and Bebe. I couldn’t imagine my life without them. They deserve every award they can be honored with.” Szeigis has spent the better part of her four-decade career as a publicist working with the Charlie Daniels Band. In 1992, Charlie manager David Corlew started management company Corlew O’Grady and Szeigis began working with several new artists, including John Berry. Evans began running the Charlie Daniels Band’s touring operations in 1988, a position she still holds more than 30 years later. Evans’ niece, Marcie Allen VanMol, was on hand to honor her aunt as a mentor and respected career woman.
Video tributes to the honorees were also made by Carrie Underwood, Gary Allan and other artists.
“I’m honored to join a group of extraordinary women to have the people in my career who have mentored, encouraged and even pushed me along,” said honoree Garner, who forged a 40-plus year career in concert promotion, record label A&R, television production and artist management. In 1984, she was promoted to the VP of A&R, the first woman to gain that position at CBS Records. In 1987, she left to join Mark Rothbaum & Associates, later named Rothbaum & Garner. “I haven’t been bored a single day in my career and I’m not done yet.”
Crystal Gayle attended to honor Fleischer-Robin, who became Gayle’s tour manager in 1977. Two years later, she was named VP of Operations for Gayle Enterprises. In 1981, she joined the promotion staff at CBS Records in Nashville (which later became Sony Music) and worked there for 17 years, working radio promotion for artists including Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Rosanne Cash, Vern Gosdin and many others. She founded Robin Enterprises in 1998, specializing in artist and radio development. She spearheaded comeback songs for Kenny Rogers (“Buy Me A Rose”) and Randy Travis (“Three Wooden Crosses”).
“It is my pleasure to be here to honor Debi,” said Gayle. Talking about her early days of being on the road with Fleischer-Robin, Gayle said, “My career was exploding and there we were, two girls taking on the world. I only wanted the best, and she was.”
Kix Brooks honored Hilley via video, and Sony/ATV’s president/CEO Troy Tomlinson gave a tribute to the former leader of Sony/ATV in Nashville. “Donna Hilley made Margaret Thatcher look like a sissy,” said Tomlinson. “She had two traits; she was tough in all the right places and soft in all the right places. Particularly, that endeared her to songwriters. Songwriters can be very sensitive. They sense when someone is being tough for their best interest, and Hilley knew when to give grace. That balance helped make her a great leader.”
Donna’s three daughters, Vickie Arney, Debbie Tenpenny and Whitney Stewart accepted the award on her behalf. Seely also spoke a few words about Hilley. “She was a role model for me in how to act, though I didn’t always turn out that way,” said the quick-witted host for the evening.
Another video congratulations came from Kenny Rogers, as McDowell was honored. “There are different periods of a career, and Gerri was so responsible for some of my greatest hits,” said Rogers. McDowell was brought to Nashville by Capitol executive Lynn Shults, and she became the first female national promotion executive at a Nashville record label. She later worked in a similar capacity at Curb Records, then as national VP for Curb/Universal. She was the first VP of Promotion to hire an all-female regional promotion staff. In 2000, she began Gerrieco, a Texas music promotion and consulting company.
Trahern, GM/Sr. VP of Scripps Networks Interactive’s Great American Country, moved to Nashville in 1995 to oversee specials and entertainment for TNN. She began her career at C-SPAN in Washington, DC covering politics and public affairs. She joined GAC in 2005 and was promoted to Sr. VP of programming, and in 2010, to GM of the network. “Television is a team sport,” said Trahern. “I may be the coach, but the coach can’t get you touchdowns.” To her team, who was in attendance, she said, “You move us down the field everyday, so this is for all of you.” She also gave ample thanks to her supportive parents, especially her father, who was in attendance. She recalled wanting to become a stewardess and then an airplane pilot as a child; her father was equally supportive of both. “I didn’t learn to limit. When I decided to do something crazy to leave politics to come to Nashville…He taught me that everything was possible.”
Judging by the careers displayed throughout the evening, the 11th Annual SOURCE awards were a potent reminder that in this industry, anything is possible.
All photos courtesy of Alan Mayor.
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