Revered Music Row veteran Don Light died on June 17, leaving behind a wide-ranging legacy comprised of establishing the first Gospel music booking agency, co-founding the Gospel Music Association, and discovering Jimmy Buffett.
The Tennessee native’s entree into the music business came as a drummer on the Grand Ole Opry. Next, he helped lead Billboard’s Nashville outpost.
He noticed a need for a Gospel booking agency and opened Don Light Talent in 1965, representing groups including the Happy Goodman Family and The Oak Ridge Boys. He eventually signed the Chuck Wagon Gang, Governor Jimmie Davis, The Florida Boys, the Lewis Family, the Rex Nelon Singers, the Cathedral Quartet, the Singing Rambos, Wendy Bagwell & the Sunliters, and the Thrasher Brothers.
In the ’70s Light added record producer and artist manager to his multi-faceted repertoire, producing more than 50 albums and discovering and managing a diverse roster of artists such as Buffet, the Oaks, Delbert McClinton, Keith Whitley, Steve Wariner, Marty Stuart and Mark Collie.
Eventually he co-founded the Gospel Music Association, and was very active with the GMA, CMA, Recording Academy, IBMA and the Country Music Hall of Fame. Fittingly, his work led to induction in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and Southern Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame.
His longtime clients The Steep Canyon Rangers shared this rememberance with MusicRow:
We were approached backstage at Graves Mountain Bluegrass Festival in June of 2004 by a slender, well dressed gray haired man named Don Light. He watched as we were warming up for our set and mentioned that he would be interested in talking to us about becoming our manager. We had not even played our show, but he said he heard a sound that he liked and thought he could help us. A few weeks later we were in Nashville and had a meeting with Don Light in his Music Row office (formerly Chet Atkins’ office) and a relationship between Don Light—he only liked to be referred to by his first and last name, which he made very clear early on—and Steep Canyon Rangers was formed. Over the next seven and a half years we were proud to have Don Light Talent, with Julie Pennell, represent our group. The more we grew to know Don Light, the more we understood stood why his reputation in Nashville was impeccable. We loved his connection to old Nashville and his belief in our band was instrumental to us. The 2006 IBMA Emerging Artist award and our relationship with the Grand Ole Opry were two accomplishments among the many we achieved through Don Light. Being bluegrassers, we could sit in his office and hear stories about Lester Flatt and Keith Whitley all day! Don Light was full of great advice, one liners, striking smiles, but he was also a careful and thoughtful listener. His interest in bluegrass later in his career was a blessing for us and other groups who were fortunate to benefit from his experience and wisdom. We’re grateful to have known and worked with Don Light and will try to someday justify his belief that we “could be important.” He was that and more to us.