Veteran Nashville Publicist Liz Thiels Passes
Liz Thiels, one of the founders of Nashville music publicity, died yesterday (March 19) at age 78.
Thiels ended her distinguished career with a vice presidency at the Country Music Hall of Fame. She joined the museum in 2002 as Vice President for Public Relations, and retired as a key member of its executive team in 2015.
During her tenure, she helped raise the institution’s profile and deepen the public’s understanding of its educational mission. She also served as a guiding vision for dozens of key museum events, including its annual Medallion Ceremony, which formally inducts new members of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
The Louisiana native rose to prominence in Music City as a co-founder of the historic Exit/In nightclub in 1971. This legendary nightspot hosted a who’s-who of national recording artists — Jimmy Buffett, Linda Ronstadt, Steve Martin, George Jones, Etta James, Johnny Cash, Muddy Waters, R.E.M., The B-52s, Willie Nelson, Billy Joel, Bily Crystal, John Hiatt, Buddy Rich, Jerry Lee Lewis and more. The club was featured in the 1975 Robert Altman film Nashville.
Beginning in 1974, she was a key member of the Sound Seventy management and concert-promotion team. The company staged the massively successful, annual, all-star Charlie Daniels Volunteer Jam shows in Nashville.
In 1979, Liz Thiels launched Network Ink. This was the first publicity company in Nashville to focus solely on music. Clients included Ricky Skaggs, Wynonna, Kathy Mattea, Reba McEntire, Steve Wariner, Dolly Parton, Lyle Lovett, Brooks & Dunn, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Clint Black, Nanci Griffith, WSM radio, Universal Music Group, Clay Walker and Guy Clark, among many others. During this time, she also served as a council member of the W.O. Smith Community Music School.
Thiels was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, in 1944. She attended the University of Southwest Louisiana in Lafayette, Louisiana, and Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, majoring in advertising design.
She began her career as a newspaper reporter in Louisiana. Thiels went to Washington, D.C. as the press secretary for U.S. Congressman Speedy O. Long. After moving to Nashville in the late 1960s, she worked at Holder, Kennedy Public Relations.
Following her Exit/In and Sound Seventy stints, she helmed Network Ink for more than 20 years. Her P.R. firm trained a generation of Nashville music publicists, including Lance Cowan, Kim Fowler, Mike Hyland, Dixie Owen, Jennifer Bohler, Ellen Pryor and Kevin Lane. Liz Thiels became sole owner of Network Ink in 1985.
One of her clients there was the Country Music Hall of Fame. She was instrumental in the capital campaign that raised $18 million to build its new downtown home. She also oversaw the publicity surrounding its move from Music Row.
The Hall of Fame hired her as a full-time executive in December 2001. She closed Network Ink and assumed her new duties in January 2002.
“Liz Thiels elevated and enhanced the profile of country music in countless ways,” said Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. “She was the consummate music business publicist — heading her own firm…and also expertly guiding public relations for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, first as a PR consultant and then as a staff member, for a total of more than three decades.
“A vital figure in the museum’s successful move in 2001 to downtown Nashville, she was instrumental in strategizing for our growth and crucial in positioning the museum as both a key fixture in Nashville’s music community and an institution of national stature. I can’t imagine where the museum would be without her many years of wise counsel.”
In November 2008, Thiels was recognized at the museum’s annual Louise Scruggs Memorial Forum, which honors music industry leaders who represent the legacy of music business manager Louise Scruggs.
In honor of her love of gardening, the museum now includes a fresh herb garden onsite, the Liz Thiels Hillbilly Garden, which provides ingredients for the museum’s restaurant.
Her death came following a long illness. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.