Lifenotes: Beloved Music Industry Veteran Roy Wunsch Passes

Roy William Wunsch passed away in Nashville on Friday (Aug. 31), following a decade-long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 75.

Born June 23, 1943, in St. Louis, Mo., the son of Roy P. Wunsch and Ruth Wunsch, Roy is preceded in death by his parents and his sister, Sharon, all of St. Louis. He is survived by his wife of almost 30 years and friend of 44 years Mary Ann McCready, by daughter Cynthia Wunsch Bowen (Jay) of Nashville, and son Roy Christopher Wunsch of St. Louis. Roy went to Hancock High School, then attended St. Louis University, where he studied journalism. After working for a summer at a CBS Records distribution center, he left SLU to follow his heart into the music business.

For 30 years he worked with some of the most important artists in American music, and he spent the majority of those years with CBS/Sony Music, one of the best known and most competitive record companies in the world, whose label imprints included Columbia and Epic. Often honored for superior work, Roy received many awards of excellence for his performance in numerous musical genres.

In 1975, CBS placed greater emphasis on its Nashville division, and Roy agreed to lead the team as National Promotion and Sales Manager for Columbia’s sister label, Epic Records. Artists on the label included Tammy Wynette, George Jones, David Houston, Bob Luman, Johnny Paycheck, Joe Stampley and Charlie Rich. Many of those artists made timeless records in collaboration with Epic executive and iconic producer Billy Sherrill.

By 1981, Roy’s street smarts and diverse experience earned him the office of Vice President, overseeing Columbia, Epic and CBS Associated labels. He was the first in Nashville to hold that position. He added many notable recording artists and helped further the careers of Johnny Cash, Sonny James, Willie Nelson, Ray Price, Ricky Skaggs and Connie Smith (all now members of the Country Music Hall of Fame). He also worked with significant artists such as Lynn Anderson, David Allan Coe, Johnny Duncan, Janie Fricke and Marty Robbins.

Roy was elevated to second-in-command at Columbia’s Nashville office in 1985, and in 1988 — the year Sony Music completed its acquisition of CBS Records — he was appointed Senior Vice President of Nashville Operations, supporting the careers of Chet Atkins, Bobby Bare, Rosanne Cash, Crystal Gayle, the Highwaymen, the O’Kanes, Dolly Parton, The Charlie Daniels Band, Earl Scruggs, Marty Stuart, Sweethearts of the Rodeo and Ricky Van Shelton.

In 1990, for his skill and influence in Sony’s success, Roy was rewarded with a promotion to President of the Nashville division, the first person ever to hold that post.

Throughout his career, Roy espoused sophisticated marketing strategies that moved away from country music’s traditional imaging and embraced modern styles that reaped greater revenue and grew the audience for country music. Among his earliest achievements was the marketing of Willie Nelson’s classic Stardust album, a collection of pop standards produced by Booker T. Jones that sounded nothing like anything on country radio. Buoyed by hits “Georgia on My Mind,” “All of Me” and “Blue Skies,” the collection sold more than 10 million copies and stands as one of Sony Music Nashville’s most successful albums. A pair of country legends, Merle Haggard and George Jones, had their first gold and platinum albums under Roy’s stewardship.

In the late 1980s, he signed folk-reared singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter to a country recording contract. Though immediately embraced by critics, she failed to reach popular notoriety until a surprise CMA Awards appearance, enabled by Roy, won her broad notoriety. She recorded two highly successful albums followed by the multiplatinum album Come On, Come On, which yielded an astonishing seven hit singles.

Roy chaired the boards of the Country Music Association and the Country Music Hall of Fame. He was an early and ongoing supporter of the W.O. Smith School of Music, which makes affordable, quality music instruction available to children from low-income families. The W.O. Smith Music School transforms lives through music.

Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2008, Roy continued to play tennis, a lifelong passion, until three months ago; to love his dog, Maggie; and to be a loyal and avid fan of the city of St. Louis. He and wife Mary Ann enjoyed a life of great friendship, intense love and grand adventure, including a 30-day trip around the world.

In 2012, he began spending time painting and doing pottery with his artist daughter, Cindy, at her local studio. In December of 2015, a record crowd came to support his efforts, where he sold out his entire first exhibition. The show, called “Color Me Happy,” was a testament to his ongoing and courageous fight. The proceeds of this event went to charity.

Services will be at the Cathedral of the Incarnation, 2015 West End Ave. in Nashville officiated by Rev. Father Steiner on Thursday, Sept. 6, at 3:30 p.m. followed by a Celebration of Life at the Fleming Center next door.

A private family burial will be held the following day. Pallbearers will include Charles Batt, Jay S. Bowen, Frank Bumstead, Ron Dawson, Ron Elz, Chuck Flood, Jim Ramsey, Andrew Steed and Adam Steed. Honorary pallbearers include Bill Barnes, Rafael Cambronero, Gene Denonovich, Steve Diaz, Joe Mansfield, Mike Martinovich, Jim McCready, John McCready, Stan Moress, David Steed, Kevin Slovacek and Walter Yetnikoff. In memorium pallbearers include Billy Sherrill, Dave Swengros and Jeff Walker.

The family wishes to express heartfelt appreciation to Gretchen Napier, Julie Ehrlich and Jodi Jackson of Lifelinks; the loving hearts of Jihar Adeny, Lise Brown, Anthony Cuzone, Emily Henry, Ruthie McGonagle Ingram, Dierdre Jenkins, Jim Kemp, Stephanie Kendrick, Mitzi McCormick and Emily Tan; Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Dr. Petrie, Dr. Peach, Dr. Karlarkar, Dr. Sharp and Dr. Kirshner; Bonnie Wagner, Stuart Dill; Sarah Prince, Dea Smith; and The Richland West End Neighborhood.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests and appreciates donations to the W.O. Smith School, P.O. Box 121348, Nashville, TN 37212, Attn: The Roy Wunsch “Stardust” Scholarship, wosmith.org; or to Feed My People, 171 Kingston Drive, St. Louis, MO 63125, feed-my-people.org.

Wunsch’s artwork was proudly featured on the cover of the January 2016 issue of MusicRow. He was an avid and early supporter of the publication, becoming the first head of a major label to purchase subscriptions for every member of his staff.

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About the Author

Jessica Nicholson serves as the Managing Editor for MusicRow magazine. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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