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MusicRow’s Sherod Robertson Looks Back On 10 Years As Publisher and Owner

Pictured (clockwise from top right): Taylor Swift and Sherod Robertson; Garth Brooks, Robertson, and Trisha Yearwood; Tim McGraw; Chris Young and Robertson; Carrie Underwood and Robertson; Robertson and Dierks Bentley; Dolly Parton and Robertson. Photos: Courtesy Sherod Robertson

(This article first appeared in MusicRow‘s January 2021 Touring print issue.)

In college, MusicRow Publisher/Owner Sherod Robertson was enamored with the television show Dallas, which followed the saga of the Ewing family and their massive oil empire. The suits and the storylines inspired Robertson to want to pursue a career in business in Dallas so when he graduated magna cum laude from The University of Alabama, he headed west to start that journey.

With a business education and a major in accounting, Robertson took a job with the well-known Arthur Andersen & Co. accounting firm. A few years later, Robertson visited a fraternity brother who lived in Nashville. On that brief visit, Robertson immediately knew he had to leave Dallas and move to Music City. From that first visit, he knew this was home.

“I wasn’t trying to get a job in the music industry,” Robertson said. “I had specialized in oil and gas [accounting]. But through the way it often works in Nashville, I knew someone and that connection led to a career change by helping me secure an interview with Reunion Records, the boutique contemporary Christian music label. I landed the job and soon became CFO of Reunion. Reunion was acquired by Bertelsmann and Arista Records in the mid-90s, and that’s how I ended up working for Arista and that amazing and somewhat legendary team under the leadership of Tim Dubois and Mike Dungan.”

Pictured (clockwise from top left): Cyndi Lauper and Sherod Robertson; Maren Morris and Robertson; Robertson and Eric Church. Photos: Courtesy Sherod Robertson

In 2000, the Arista Records label was merged as an imprint under its sister company RCA Label Group, and many of the Arista staff received pink slips, Robertson included. After stumbling around for a while, he parlayed some work with the Nashville Scene into helping to start a new company, SouthComm, with publisher Chris Ferrell. SouthComm became a media company that owned a number of alternative weekly newspapers and other niche publications such as the Nashville Scene and Nfocus, and eventually purchased MusicRow Magazine from its Founder, David Ross.

In 2010, SouthComm decided to sell off MusicRow. And Robertson decided to buy it.

“I often get asked what gave me the courage and confidence to make the leap from something like finance and accounting to buying a media company. I personally had no journalism experience and the only articles I had written were audit opinions and financial statement footnotes. But looking back, I honestly feel I didn’t have a choice in the matter. It wasn’t even something I needed to analyze or think about. When an opportunity presents itself that is so perfectly aligned with who you are and where you want to go, and most importantly, you are mentally in a place to accept it, taking that first step is ridiculously easy. It’s the execution that follows; however, where all the work begins.

“Once I acquired MusicRow, I became the apprentice. Since I was one of the first two people that started SouthComm and I had so much institutional knowledge about that company, I said, ‘Here’s what I’ll do as part of my deal with the acquisition: I will train someone so that whenever I leave on that last day, you won’t even notice that I have left. It will be that seamless.’ And so I would work at SouthComm for the first half of the day, and then on my lunch break, I would come over to MusicRow and work the remaining part of the day. When I was at SouthComm, I was training someone to take over my role, and when I came here, David [Ross] was doing the opposite and training me to take over his role. So I was very fortunate that after I bought the company, I was able to be trained by the guy who started it in 1981.

“Something I recently realized is that me being a CPA and an auditor at Arthur Anderson in those early days of my career gave me some incredibly useful tools for my role at MusicRow, particularly those I learned on the audit side,” Robertson said. “Knowing accounting is always a good plus when you’re running your own company. I think everybody would agree with that. I never dreamed that my audit skills would translate into any type of asset as a Publisher, but it has. One of the most important skills as a financial auditor is looking for inconsistencies, looking for errors, looking for things that don’t fit, and when you have a company like MusicRow that is generating so much content—whether it’s proofing or just getting that gut feeling that something doesn’t look right and it needs to be adjusted. Those are some of the skills that I brought here from my very first job many years ago.”

Since being at MusicRow, the publication has grown exponentially in value. Robertson took a well-built, innovative and valuable resource for the Nashville music industry, and expanded it, growing the publication’s digital presence. The print magazines have grown and strengthened under Robertson’s leadership, including the lauded InCharge Print Issue and Directory, and the valued Artist Roster and Publisher Editions. Robertson enhanced the MusicRow CountryBreakout Radio Chart, acquired the MusicRow Top Songwriter Chart, launched the MusicRow Weekly Newsletter, implemented MusicRow’s No. 1 Challenge Coins, and much more.

Robertson adds, “In the first few years, I had two major goals. One was to have a deeper footprint by penetrating the Nashville music industry in a more profound, meaningful way. And the second was to pay down my debt that I used to acquire the company. Looking back, that’s what we have done, and I’m very proud of that.

“There were two different paths I could have gone, and I thought seriously and strategically about both. I could have made the publication more consumer oriented. A lot of industry trade publications end up going in this direction but it often weakens the value for the industry it serves. I purposely decided that was not the path for MusicRow. I wanted to hyper-serve the music industry in Nashville, plant my feet deeper into the industry and become an even more important resource, not just for information, but for connecting people in the industry. As a result, in addition to the core industry members we serve, we also have thousands of country music superfans, who don’t work in the industry, but follow our content because of its integrity and value.”

Pictured (left): Richard Branson and Sherod Robertson; (right): Robertson, Carly Pearce, and ASCAP’s Mike Sistad. Photos: Courtesy Sherod Robertson

Robertson also revamped the existing MusicRow Awards event to an invitation-only, ticketed gala with expanded categories; and he started the beloved, annual Rising Women on the Row honors ceremony.

“[Rising Women on the Row] has been an important event for me because it’s an homage to my late grandmother, so it has a very personal meaning,” Robertson said. “I love supporting badass women in our industry when they’re in the middle of their careers–and shining a spotlight on them and their contributions. It’s important for me to let them know that we all see what they are doing and we want to recognize and honor that. That’s what this event is all about.”

Likewise, MusicRow established the N.B.T. (Next Big Thing) Music Industry Directory in last year’s Touring Print Issue, which showcases Nashville industry members in mid-level roles, who are rising through the ranks.

“This is highlighting the top achievers in the next generation that are going to be the future leaders of our industry. They are literally the future of the Nashville music industry. Reinvesting back into the industry is such an important thing, and I think a lot of us do that. We know how important it is to invest in the next generation that’s coming up. So this is one way we can do that, by recognizing those individuals who are the Next Big Thing.”

Robertson has learned a lot in his 10 years at the helm of MusicRow Magazine. His hard work has paid off.

“The most rewarding part of this role has been the people and the experiences. When I think of the extraordinary people I have met and the amazing things I have been given the opportunity to do, I am completely humbled with gratitude. As I mentally scroll through the names and experiences, I jokingly ask myself, ‘Whose life is this!?’ I am truly very fortunate to be in this position.

“But it takes a tremendous amount of work to do what MusicRow does on a consistent and reliable basis. I’m very proud of our team and the content we generate. It’s exciting to have a group of team members that not only share my vision but have a similar desire to be their very best.”

Pictured (left): Jeannie Seely and Sherod Robertson; (right): Robertson and Tony Brown. Photos: Courtesy Sherod Robertson

As far as the next 10 years, Robertson remains focused on what the Nashville music business needs.

“I think it’s very important on the front end that I’m always looking, not just for new opportunities—because I’m very good at that—but also looking for opportunities where MusicRow needs to be and what we need to be doing,” Robertson said. “My daily philosophy can be somewhat exhausting, so I’m not necessarily recommending it, but on some level I come into the office every single day with the expectation that I have to earn it all over again today. I don’t get to rest on anything I’ve done before. With that mindset, as far as the next 10 years go, it’s being acutely aware of where MusicRow needs to be and how we need to improve and enhance our role of connecting this industry, especially as the industry gets more fragmented—whether it be geographically or the graying lines of the genre, or the expanding digital opportunities or as in this year, the way we continue to work and create during a pandemic.

“We have to always be looking at what we need to be doing. Whatever we do today may be great, but you have to understand that tomorrow, it may not be. It may need to be something else, something different. That’s the key to me, as far as going forward. Some people want to be big, but I don’t use size as a measurement of my success. I use quality of service, value of content, ability to connect all of us together and most importantly, the feedback I receive from industry people that I respect. Those are my metrics.”

The Academy of Country Music’s Damon Whiteside And Lyndsay Cruz Recount 2020 [Interview]

Lyndsay Cruz, Damon Whiteside. Photos: Courtesy The Academy of Country Music

In a challenging year for all, the Academy of Country Music, like most companies, worked hard to pivot.

Just two weeks after postponing the original April 18th show date for the 55th ACM Awards from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, the Academy produced ACM Presents: Our Country, an at-home special that reached nearly 11 million viewers after airing on CBS and on CMT. In addition to the special, the Academy produced a pre-show that aired across Academy social platforms and Twitch, to which nearly 400,000 people live streamed.

During the show’s broadcast ACM Lifting Lives, the charitable arm of the Academy of Country Music, announced the launch of ACM Lifting Lives COVID- 19 Response Fund, created to assist those in the country music industry who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Since then, ACM Lifting Lives has raised and distributed $3.5 million. They reopened the fund on Giving Tuesday, in time to help more in need during this holiday season.

While gearing up for the first live awards show during the pandemic, ACM released its first single, “On The Road Again (ACM Lifting Lives Edition),” a collaboration featuring this year’s ACM New Artist nominees—including Ingrid Andress, Gabby Barrett, Jordan Davis, Russell Dickerson, Lindsay Ell, Caylee Hammack, Cody Johnson, and Morgan Wallen—and joined by the legendary Willie Nelson on the remake of his original hit.

Then, for the first time ever, the 55th ACM Awards took place in Nashville, Tennessee on Sept. 16 at three iconic locations including the Grand Ole Opry House, Ryman Auditorium and Bluebird Cafe. The 55th ACM Awards was the first live awards show during COVID-19, bringing a total of 7.63 million viewers, reaching the No. 1 driver of social videos online for the day. The Academy worked diligently to make sure safety protocols on-site including testing, sanitizing and health screenings were enforced leading up to and onsite. With all protocols in place, a virtual Radio Row and virtual Press Room was created in order to keep radio, media, press and artists safe during this time.

The Academy also launched a consumer-facing site to help promote label priorities and artists through summer and fall, ACM: The Hub. The Hub included virtual events such as Wine Down Wednesday, a happy hour series featuring rising female country music artists. On behalf of each artist, the Academy’s partner, 1000 Stories® Bourbon Barrel-Aged Wine, contributed a $2,000 donation towards the ACM Lifting Lives COVID-19 Response Fund, bringing in a total of $18,000 from the series. The Academy also launched the ACM: The Weekly, a live concert-like experience on ACM social platforms, on The Hub. The ACM Weekly features 3-4 artists each week.

The ACM’s CEO, Damon Whiteside, and ACM Lifting Lives Executive Director, Lyndsay Cruz, spoke with MusicRow recently about 2020, and what challenges and accomplishments the year entailed.

MusicRow: The start of the lockdown in the U.S. was so close to the ACM awards in April. You guys pivoted to the Our Country special in two weeks. Tell me about making that decision and how you guys were able to pull that together so quickly.

Whiteside: It was a pretty quick turnaround, but we felt like we already had that date secured on CBS and we knew that the fans were looking forward to an award show. So we were just so in that mode and, obviously, the artists were planning to perform and they wanted to be promoting their latest music. Of course, at the time, we thought maybe tours would be coming back in the summer, at that point we didn’t know. It just seemed like a really good opportunity for us to still utilize that date and a great opportunity to bring some comfort to the fans and just bring music to the fans. The [ACM Presents: Our Country] special was just an idea that was brought up between RAC Clark, our executive producer, myself, and our team Dick Clark Productions.

We just got on the phone one day and said, ‘Can we really pull this off?’ And at that point, too, there really hadn’t been any of the virtual shows yet. After our show aired, there were several after that. But we were about the first to do one of those. So we just jumped in; we took it to CBS and they really liked the idea, too. Within a day, we got it all approved and started reaching out to artists’ managers. It just all really came together. And of course, we gave direction to the artists, but we really had the artists shoot it themselves in their own homes or locations. It was an interesting flip of where they sort of put it together creatively themselves, where they were at. We just worked with them on all of that, and it obviously turned out really fantastic.

Eric Church performs on ACM Presents: Our Country

When it came time for the ACM Awards in September, you guys were really first out of the gate with a truly live awards show. What were the guiding posts of what was most important to you in planning that event?

Whiteside: It was the first true live awards show back, meaning that we had a lot of live elements in it, including the awards, which was really the first time that had been done where we had winners in the room, coming out on stage to accept awards. It was all live-hosted as well, Keith [Ubran] was there, live doing the hosting and several of the performances were all done live, too. So it was a lot of coordination. Our priority was that we really wanted to have as much live element to it as we possibly could, while being cognizant of the artist safety. That was a major part, ensuring that the artists felt safe, but that we could still be true to the award ceremony component of it by giving away the awards live.

We were able to accomplish that by being able to have artists essentially quarantine back on their buses and then as they needed to be on stage, then they were brought in. It was all very meticulously choreographed so that no artist would ever actually see each other, which would then cause them to go off and want to hug or talk to each other. We were really meticulous about that to make sure that an artist that came in to accept their award and then to do press, they would literally never see other artists. It was all staged that way so they were completely safe.

From the awards show perspective, it was all new for us, not only because of COVID, but it was the first time in Nashville in our history. We were in the three most iconic venues in Nashville, and going live to three different venues was something we had never done. So there were all of these elements that just were a first time thing for us. What was important was we wanted to really just honor the industry, of course, but also really honor the fact that we were in Nashville for the first time at these iconic venues and the fact that, artists had all been quarantined for so many months and we hadn’t seen them perform for so long. We just wanted to bring a really exciting show but also make sure that we were being really respectful of what was going on in the world and bringing some comfort, joy and music to the fans. It’s been dragging on so long that people feel disconnected from live events and disconnected from being able to see their favorite artists on a big stage, so it was important that we brought a full-sized show to them, but in a very safe way.

Taylor Swift’s live debut performance of “betty” at the 2020 ACM Awards. Photo: Getty Images | Courtesy of the Academy of Country Music

The ACM has given back $3.5 million in COVID relief aid and plans to continue to give back in 2021. Lyndsay, what does it mean to you for ACM Lifting Lives to have such an impact during this time?

Cruz: Oh gosh, don’t make me cry. We had a really ambitious slate of events and initiatives planned for 2020, for just the general fund of ACM Lifting Lives because [Taylor Wolf] the manager of ACM Lifting Lives—I call her my partner—we spent 2019 really trying to refine the mission of Lifting Lives. Not necessarily a rebrand, but just getting laser focused on what we do. So we’re excited about 2020 and all of the things we were going to accomplish. Of course, that all came to a screeching halt. We had always been operating a disaster relief fund, very quietly, called the Diane Holcomb Emergency Relief Fund. And that is for folks who are in the industry, who face the financial hardship or a personal disaster, whether that be a medical issue or something that happens to their home. So we had been set up to do that. And then when COVID hit, we realized we’re actually in a position to give back more. We have smart investment managers that sit on the board of Lifting Lives, we have some reserves. So we thought, ‘This is an opportunity to help people that the government wasn’t helping yet.’ We knew there was going to be a stimulus package, but we thought, ‘We can do this. We have the resources.’ So we created the application and then we started the process. We approved and allocated about a $1 million in approximately a week and a half, and these were small grants. These were $2,000, $1,000 grants based on need and criteria. Then the funds were gone.

From that point on, it was just any sort of fundraising opportunity we could grab onto, we did. We just completely focused on this fund because Stimulus checks ran out, PPP ran out, and there was no getting back on the road in sight. So we just continued to say, ‘We’ve got to keep on fundraising for this.’

[Through the fundraising efforts], we just kept banking the money and saying, ‘We know we’re going to reopen this fund. We don’t know how much, but we we’ve got to do it because the need is still so great.’ We had to close our fund, obviously, but we had a wait list. So people were just sort of waiting until we had funds to distribute.

We had about $500,000, in cash and from fundraising around September. We wanted to reopen the fund before the end of the year and we want to get money into people’s pockets before the holidays. So my awesome partner, Damon Whiteside at the ACM, and I crafted a plan to just start knocking on doors of companies that were under more financially stable footing, and the first were labels and DSPs. We got an amazing $500,000 gift from Amazon and we basically hit up every label and they all came in with a cash donation. So we raised about another $900,000, and then we made up with our reserves that difference to reopen the fund with $2 million. [As of this interview], we will have given out the $2 million. Taylor and I looked at the number today and I think we had about $75,000 left to give.

We’re so grateful that we’re in a position that we can do that, but we have a feeling that this is going to continue on for a bit longer, and so we’re trying to get ahead of it for 2021 to think about a third round.

Whiteside: I just want to give credit and kudos to Lyndsay and Taylor and their dedication this whole year. I’ve been at ACM almost a year, but I’m so impressed with Lifting Lives and the fact that it can be so nimble and it can be so many things to so many people in need. I’ve seen it just firsthand, them pivot this year from one need to another. I mean, we started the year with a tornado in Nashville and our team was out doing volunteer work and Lyndsay was working to get funds to people that needed it. And then it pivoted to COVID, and all the other things that we do on a daily basis. To me, it’s just been so powerful to see, as soon as there’s a need, Lifting Lives can identify the need and then address that need. I can’t underline enough the fact that yes, there is MusiCares out there, which was a huge fund that did great work, however, that was across the entire music industry. We’re the only ones that are doing this for country music, that’s literally serving the country music community directly with funding. So I have to applaud Lyndsay and the Lifting Lives team again on that. That’s pretty miraculous.

Damon, this was your first year at the ACM. Tell me what tackling such a difficult year was like during your first year.

Whiteside: I’ll have a better answer in January. I went into it really excited obviously, and there was a lot of major things to really tackle this year. A big part of that, too, is me just living in two cities. I was going to be half the time in L.A. and half in Nashville, so that was going to certainly be a challenge. Coming into it, I literally was just focused on the Vegas show in April and making that the best we can make it. There’s a lot of feedback I’d had from past years and I just had a lot of ideas and a lot of feedback from the staff and the board on a lot of things that we wanted to accomplish this year.

I wasn’t really [as focused on] introducing a bunch of new ideas, I really wanted to elevate what we do as an organization and elevate how we serve the industry. That would be a big win for year one. And then obviously, a couple of months in, everything started to change. I’ve said this a lot to our staff, too, that I feel like, in a strange way, the pandemic really forced us to be more innovative than we probably could have ever been. Our Country really proved it to us, where we could pivot from canceling an awards show in Vegas to immediately flipping and doing a two hour CBS special, plus the livestream. All of that was just learning, you know, there’s really no rules here. If we have a really strong idea and we have the support of the board, let’s go for it and make it happen. I think it really showed all of us that we could do things differently and we didn’t have to do things based on how we’d done them in the past. It was almost like, everything is up for discussion this year.

Is there any update on the Nashville office space?

Whiteside: Not at the moment. We’re still researching. Nothing has been decided as of yet, a lot of that being just because of the year. Hopefully early next year we’ll be able to make some decisions and determine what that’s going to look like for us. Nothing has been confirmed yet.

Of all the successes and resilience that the Academy has shown this year, what are each of you most proud of?

Cruz: All the arrows point to the COVID fund and how many people we’ve been able to help. To date, we’ve been able to help about 2,000 people. Again, these are small grants that we’re helping people just put food on the table or pay their rent or mortgage. Hearing from the folks and what a significant impact that made for them; we had people say, ‘Wow, we didn’t think anyone cared,’ and also, ‘When I’m in a better place, I’d really love to come back and help you all in some way.’ That’s incredibly powerful for us.

[I’m also proud of] the amazing partnership with Vanderbilt in Nashville. This year we had our 11th annual ACM Lifting Lives Music Camp, which is a research educational camp for people with a developmental disease called Williams Syndrome. It brings together these campers from around the country to do songwriting with the amazing Ross Copperman, and Runaway June sat in and helped write the song. We were still able to do that, even though it was virtual, and we had other artists like Tenille Townes, Michael Ray and Frankie Ballard. So we were able to still pull that off, and we expanded our partnership with Vanderbilt and were able to announce a $750,000 endowment to expand our work with people living with autism. So we’re able to create the ACM Lifting Lives Autism Lab at Vanderbilt, and it’s going to establish autism as one of our signature initiatives.

Frankie Ballard, Tenille Townes, and Michael Ray participate in ACM Lifting Lives Music Camp.

Whiteside: Obviously I want to echo everything she said, I don’t think there’s anything bigger we can point out than the COVID response. That’s just hands down, obviously our proudest moment or accomplishment of the year. But, on the ACM side, I feel like we’ve really elevated the ACM brand this year and what it means to the industry and the fans. We’ve been able to really serve the industry more than we have in a lot of years, if not ever, just in terms of having the Our Country special right at the moment our artists needed it most. It was right at the beginning of the pandemic, when people were more scared, and we got such a great response about what comfort that brought the fans. And then, I couldn’t be more proud of the show in Nashville. We started out the year thinking that we were going to be country’s party of the year, which is our normal positioning for the show, and then ended up doing a night of hurt and hits with a new host and with being the first live show back. I’m proud we were able to pay respect to the Nashville community. So between those things, it just made ACM able to really support our industry and in a huge way.

BREAKING: Iconic Singer-Songwriter K.T. Oslin Passes

K.T. Oslin

Triple Grammy-winner K.T. Oslin, a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, has died at age 78.

She made music history by becoming the first middle-aged woman to rise to stardom in Nashville. Oslin was 45 years old when she scored a smash hit with the female anthem “80’s Ladies” in 1987. The song made her the first female songwriter in history to win the CMA’s Song of the Year prize. She was the CMA Female Vocalist of the Year in 1988.

During her career, she also earned four Academy of Country Music honors, as well as her three Grammys. In 2014, she was inducted into the Texas Songwriters Hall of Fame. She was voted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2018.

Oslin had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease in recent years and had been living in an assisted-living facility since 2016. Last week, she was diagnosed with COVID-19, but it is unclear whether this contributed to her death on Monday morning (Dec. 21).

She was born Kay Toinette Oslin in Crossett, Arkansas on May 15, 1942. She grew up in Houston, Texas. Oslin sang folk music in a trio with Guy Clark (1941-2016) as a young adult in her hometown.

Both made their disc debuts on the local 1964 Jester Records compilation LP, Look, It’s Us! Oslin and duet partner Frank Davis subsequently recorded an unreleased album in Los Angeles.

After starring with Rudy Vallee in an equity production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, she auditioned for the road company of the musical Hello Dolly! in 1966. She toured with its star Carol Channing until the show returned to New York, and remained with the musical on Broadway when it starred Betty Grable.

Settling in Manhattan, Oslin subsequently appeared in Promises, Promises, in the Lincoln Center revival of West Side Story, and in lesser-known musicals such as the Vincent Price vehicle Darling of the Day. Oslin also performed in TV commercials for cleaning products, denture adhesives, soft drinks and other products.

K.T. Oslin

During the long stretches between theatrical auditions, Oslin began writing songs in her New York apartment. SESAC executive C. Dianne Petty (1946-2007) thought they sounded “country” and began shopping them around Nashville. Oslin began making trips to Music City, performing showcases and singing backup on old friend Guy Clark’s 1978 self-titled LP.

Oslin was signed by Elektra Records, which issued “”Clean Your Own Tables” and “Younger Men” as “Kay T. Oslin” country singles in 1981-82. Neither made any waves. She remained in New York and worked as an extra in Bruce Springsteen’s 1985 video of “Glory Days,” in addition to singing ad jingles.

Meanwhile back in Nashville, her songs began attracting attention. They were successfully recorded by Gail Davies (“Round the Clock Lovin,’” 1982), Sissy Spacek (“Lonely But Only For You,” 1983), Dottie West (“Where Is a Woman to Go,” 1984), Judy Rodman (“Come Next Monday, 1985) and The Judds (“Old Pictures,” 1987).

K.T. Oslin was signed by RCA Records, which issued “Wall of Tears” as her debut single for the label in 1987. It became her first top-40 hit. “80’s Ladies” made her a star later that year. Fans were charmed by her down-home banter, brassy sense of humor, witty personality and breezy moxie. Millions of women identified with her unlikely rise to fame.

K.T. Oslin’s first USO Tour is captured in a one-hour special on TNN: The Nashville Network called USO Celebrity Tour: K.T. Oslin.

She followed “80’s Ladies” with back-to-back No. 1 records, “Do Ya” and “I’ll Always Come Back” in 1988. Her third No. 1 hit was 1989’s “Hold Me,” which won two Grammy Awards. She also hit No. 1 as the guest vocalist on Alabama’s 1988 hit “Face to Face.”

“Hey Bobby” and “This Woman” continued her top-10 streak in 1989. In 1990, her singles “Didn’t Expect It To Go Down This Way” and “Two Hearts” were followed by her fifth chart topper, “Come Next Monday.” This was accompanied by a hilarious, “Bride-of-Frankenstein” music video. Her other six videos showcased her dramatic abilities, as well as her comedic timing.

Meanwhile, Oslin’s songs continued to be recorded by other stars. Among them were Dan Seals (“Fool Me Once,” 1988), Anne Murray (“Who But You,” 1989), Trudy Lynn (“Still On My Mind,” 1991), The Forester Sisters (“Wanda,” 1992), Dorothy Moore (“Do Ya,” 1992), Aimee Comeaux (“Moving Out,” 1994) and Dusty Springfield (“Where Is a Woman to Go,” 1995). This activity has continued into recent years with Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan recording a duo version of “Do Ya” in 2017.

K.T. Oslin’s own recordings became million-sellers. Her 80’s Ladies and This Woman albums earned Gold records in 1988 and became Platinum sellers the following year. In 1991, Love In a Small Town won a Gold record award, as did a compilation of her videos.

K.T. Oslin

Her stage background served her well as she easily made the transition to television acting. Oslin guest-starred on such TV series as Paradise and Evening Shade. She had a prominent role in the made-for-TV movie Poisoned by Love opposite Harry Hamlin. She portrayed a nightclub owner in the 1993 feature film The Thing Called Love, directed by Peter Bogdanovich as Sandra Bullock’s first starring vehicle.

Carol Burnette invited K.T. Oslin to co-star on her NBC variety series Carol & Company. Oslin also became a huge favorite on the talk shows of Johnny Carson, Arsenio Hall, Joan Rivers, Ralph Emery, Oprah Winfrey and more. She was in the spotlight on ABC’s 20/20 and on her own TNN special USO Celebrity Tour.

She was sidelined by quadruple coronary bypass surgery in 1995. When she returned to recording, Oslin became increasingly experimental.

In 1996, she became an early mainstream country star to embrace the emerging Americana music movement. Her CD My Roots Are Showing showcased a variety of roots-music genres and was the first of her releases that she co-produced.

K.T. Oslin signs autographs for fans in 1987. Photo: Don Putnam.

She performed a pops concert with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra in 1999. She issued a disco single with 2000’s dance-floor mix of the Rosemary Clooney oldie “Come On-a My House.” She teamed up with Raul Malo to give a Latin tinge to some of the tracks on her 2001 collection Live Close By, Visit Often. After 2005, she made only occasional public appearances. By 2008, Oslin was focused on her painting and crafts. She sold hand-painted tableware and created tableaux of miniature furniture. She wrote and tried out a one-woman monologue-with-music autobiographical theatrical piece and appeared at benefit events from time to time.

In 2013, she celebrated the 25th anniversary of 80’s Ladies with a sold-out show at the Franklin Theater. She was also a hit at a sold-out 2015 show at The City Winery to salute the release of her final CD, titled Simply.

She retired from performing and recording after that. K.T. Oslin is survived by her aunt, Reba Byrd, in Austin, Texas, and by a small group of loving Nashville friends. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

Chris Stapleton Earns Two-Week No. 1 On ‘MusicRow’ CountryBreakout Radio Chart

Chris Stapleton returns to No. 1 this week on the MusicRow CountryBreakout Radio Chart with “Starting Over.” Stapleton co-wrote the song with Mike Henderson.

This is the title track to his latest Mercury Records release which debuted at No. 1 on the country albums chart according to Nielsen. It also landed at No. 2 on Spotify’s all-genre Top 10 U.S. Album Debuts, and No. 5 on Spotify’s Top 10 Global Albums Debut chart.

Stapleton’s “Tennessee Whiskey” won an award for the Most-Played Song at this year’s Tunie Awards Show.

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United Talent Agency Launches Heartland Initiative

Kathie Lee Gifford, Nick Barnes. Photo: Kathy Hutchins

Leading global talent and entertainment company United Talent Agency (UTA) today (Dec. 17) officially announced the company’s Heartland Initiative, a dedicated practice to identify, develop, and showcase the voices of creators and storytellers from America’s Heartland.

The Heartland Initiative focuses on storytelling rooted in the shared values of community, faith and family. The group will work with emerging and established artists and entrepreneurs, and launches with a roster that includes filmmakers The Erwin Brothers, Rove Productions and Tacklebox Films, Kathie Lee Gifford, Duck Dynasty’s Willie, Korie and Sadie Robertson, podcaster and author Annie F. Downs, writer Holly Gleason, comedians John Crist and Kevonstage, kids media brand GoNoodle, pastor Chad Veach, singer-songwriter John Eddie, and music artists Danny Gokey, Ross Copperman, and Louis York.

The new initiative will be led by Nashville-based UTA agent Nick Barnes. Barnes previously worked with country music artists Eric Church and Brothers Osborne, and as a digital executive at Sony Music Nashville. He joined UTA in 2017, originally as a Digital Strategy agent in UTA IQ, the agency’s research and analytics division.

“We believe there’s an extensive range of stories to be told and audiences eager to hear them—particularly in today’s content-thirsty world,” says Barnes. “UTA’s Heartland Initiative will bring to bear all of our resources into building bigger platforms for this underserved market. Millions of Americans will see themselves reflected in the unique voices and creative visions of our Heartland artists and entrepreneurs.”

UTA’s Heartland Initiative will be based in Nashville, where the agency is preparing to relocate the Nashville headquarters to the historic, original site of the Carnegie Library near the Tennessee state capitol building in the heart of Music City.

Charley Pride: The Loss of A Legend [Updated]

Charley Pride. Photo: Joseph Llanes

One of the greatest country stars of all time has fallen victim to the COVID 19 pandemic.

Country Music Hall of Fame member Charley Pride, 86, died in Dallas on Saturday (Dec. 12) as a result of complications from the disease. The Grand Ole Opry star was honored last month in Nashville with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the CMA.

During his six-decade career, Pride placed 67 titles on the country charts, including 52 top-10 hits and 29 No. 1 Billboard successes. His standards include “Kiss an Angel Good Morning,” “All I Have to Offer You Is Me,” “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone,” “Mountain of Love” and “We Could.” He holds 12 Gold Record awards.

He will forever be remembered as country’s first Black superstar, dubbed “the Jackie Robinson of country music.” As a former baseball player, himself, he was honored by the comparison with the man who broke the color barrier in major-league baseball.

Born Charley Frank Pride on March 18, 1934, he was the fourth of 11 children raised by sharecroppers near Sledge, Mississippi. Pride said that the lyrics of his 1974 hit “Mississippi Cotton Pickin’ Delta Town” closely reflected his upbringing. The song was written by Sledge native Harold Dorman, who also penned Pride’s 1982 smash “Mountain of Love.”

Charley Pride’s father was a devoted listener of the Grand Ole Opry. Inspired by the country music he heard on the broadcasts, the youngster taught himself to play guitar at age 14.

But sports were his main focus. Pride left Sledge at age 16 to pitch and play outfield in what was then called the American Negro League. One of teams he played for was the Memphis Red Sox.

While in Memphis, he met cosmetologist Rozene Cohran. They married in 1956 while he was serving in the Army. She became his business manager, as well as his wife.

In 1960, they moved to Helena, Montana, where Pride worked in a smelting plant near the iron mines. He also began singing locally. Backstage at a Red Foley concert in Helena, he played some songs for the country legend. Both Foley and his concert co-star Red Sovine urged Charley Pride to go to Nashville and audition at Cedarwood Music.

Instead, he decided to give baseball one last shot. He travelled to Clearwater, Florida in 1963 to try out at the New York Mets summer training camp. Mets manager Casey Stengel turned him away.

En route back north, Pride stopped in Nashville. Cedarwood’s owner was country star Webb Pierce. After hearing Pride sing, Pierce directed him to manager Jack Johnson.

Johnson funded a recording session that included Pride singing “Snakes Crawl at Night,” penned by Cedarwood songwriter and future singing star Mel Tillis. Johnson played the tapes for maverick producer Jack Clement, who agreed to work with the aspiring singer.

Clement recorded Pride and took the result to Chet Atkins at RCA Records in 1965. Atkins always believed he would be forever remembered as the man who signed Charley Pride to a recording contract.

Pride broke through on the country charts with the Jack Clement compositions “Just Between You and Me” (1966) and “I Know One” (1967).

Opry star Bill Anderson gave the newcomer his first television exposure by inviting Pride to be a guest on his nationally syndicated TV show. On Jan. 1, 1967, Charley Pride made his debut on the Opry, introduced by Ernest Tubb. He was invited to join the show’s cast in 1968, but had to decline because he was suddenly too busy to become a show regular.

The Hank Williams classic “Kaw-Liga” became a substantial hit in 1969 and was followed by Pride’s first No. 1 single, “All I Have to Offer You Is Me.” This was the first of six consecutive chart toppers, including 1970’s “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone.”

His 1971 performance of “Did You Think to Pray,” co-written with Johnson, won Pride a gospel Grammy Award. That same year’s “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” took home the Grammy for Country Song of the Year for its writer, Ben Peters.

Charley Pride was named the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year in 1971 and its Male Vocalist of the Year in both 1971 and 1972.

Presenters Minnie Pearl, center, and Kitty Wells looks on as Charley Pride draws some laughs as he accepts one of his two trophies when he won for both Entertainer and Male Vocalist of the year at “The 5th Annual CMA Awards” on Oct. 10, 1971, at the Grand Ole Opry House, live telecast on the CBS Television Network. Photo: courtesy CMA

In 1972, Pride sang “All His Children” as the theme song for the Paul Newman movie Sometimes a Great Notion. It was nominated for an Oscar, and Pride sang it on the Academy Awards international telecast. In 1973, his album Charley Pride Sings Heart Songs won a Grammy Award.

In 1975, he became the first Black artist to co-host the CMA Awards, appearing alongside Glen Campbell.

By the mid 1970s, Charley Pride was outselling the other artists on RCA, at times even outpacing Elvis Presley. His string of smash hits continued with such classics as “Amazing Love” (1973), “We Could” (1974), “Hope You’re Feelin’ Me (Like I’m Feelin’ You)” (1975), “My Eyes Can Only See as Far as You” (1976), “She’s Just an Old Love Turned Memory” (1977), “Someone Loves You Honey” (1978) and “Where Do I Put Her Memory” (1979).

As a Nashville businessman, he formed the Music Row song publishing company Pi-Gem Music with producer Tom Collins. This gave him ready access to such top-tier songwriters as John Schweers (“Don’t Fight the Feelings of Love,” etc.) and Kye Fleming & Dennis Morgan (“MIssin’ You,” etc.). The latter team’s 1981 Pride hit “Roll On, Mississippi” later became a state song.

The Prides made their home in Dallas. There, he formed the management and booking company Chardon. This firm helped launch the careers of Dave & Sugar, Janie Fricke and Neal McCoy, among others. Pride was also heavily invested in Dallas real estate and banking.

His 1978 hit “Burgers and Fries” (again penned by Ben Peters) earned Pride another Grammy nomination. In 1980, he issued There’s a Little Bit of Hank in Me, a tribute album to his idol, Hank Williams. It spawned back-to-back chart toppers with his revivals of “Honky Tonk Blues” and “You Win Again.” He also revived the Johnny Rivers hit “Mountain of Love” (1982), the George Jones classic “Why Baby Why” (1982) and the Webb Pierce standard “More and More” (1983).
Other disc successes of the 1980s included “I Don’t Think She’s in Love Anymore” (1982), “You’re So Good When You’re Bad” (1982) and “Night Games” (1983). His last top-10 hit was 1988’s “Shouldn’t It Be Easier Than This.”

But he was far from idle in the 1990s. He finally took the Opry up on its open-ended invitation to join the cast by becoming a member in 1993. The following year, he opened his 2,200-seat theater in Branson, Missouri and published his acclaimed autobiography, Pride. Admirers Travis Tritt, Joe Diffie, Hal Ketchum and Marty Stuart joined him on a 1994 CD.

In 1996, he performed for the Clintons in the White House, accepted the Trumpet Award from Turner Broadcasting in Atlanta and scored a No. 1 hit album in Australia. He holds attendance records at a number of Canadian venues and has also appeared in Japan, Guam, New Zealand, Britain, Scandinavia, Germany, Fiji and a number of other countries.

By 2000, his record sales exceeded 35 million. That was the year he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

(L-R): Bill Anderson, Charley Pride, Randy Owen and Jimmy Fortune attend the 2019 Country Music Hall of Fame Medallion Ceremony at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on October 20, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images for Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Neal McCoy has always cited the superstar as a mentor. In 2013, he issued the tribute album Pride. Other stars who received career boosts from the legend include Ronnie Milsap, Trini Triggs, Exile, Janie Fricke, Brad Paisley and Steve Wariner.

Some of them have recorded with Pride, as have such country greats as The Oak Ridge Boys, Tanya Tucker, Garth Brooks and Dolly Parton.

In 2016, Pride was one of the artists featured in the No. 1 country single and video “Forever Country.” The event, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the CMA won the Video of the Year award and became a Gold Record.

Charley Pride was given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award by the Recording Academy in 2017. The Nashville Association of Talent Directors banquet also saluted him that year, with Bobby Bare presenting the NATD’s Career Achievement honor.

Last year, Pride was honored with the PBS American Masters bio-documentary, Charley Pride: I’m Just Me, narrated by Tanya Tucker. The CMA’s Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to him by current Black country hit maker Jimmie Allen during the 2020 CMA telecast on Nov. 11.

Jimmie Allen is part of a brigade of contemporary Black country artists who owe their careers to Pride’s breakthrough. Others who have come through the door he opened include Kane Brown, Mickey Guyton, Chapel Hart, Rissi Palmer, Darius Rucker, Reyna Roberts, Willie Jones, Shy Carter, Blanco Brown and Tony Jackson.

Charley Pride came on the country scene during the height of the Civil Rights struggle. He faced prejudice, insults, discrimination and racial barriers with grace, humor, perseverance and dignity. His character exhibited the same warmth and class as his singing voice.

He is survived by his wife Rozene and by children Kraig, Dion and Angela, as well as by siblings Harmon, Stephen, Catherine and Maxine, plus five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

Pride’s family and close friends will hold a private wake and memorial in Dallas this week, with future plans for a public celebration of life memorial ceremony to be announced at a later date.  In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to The Pride Scholarship at Jesuit Preparatory School, Saint Philips School & Community Center and/or The Food Bank.

Charley Pride and Brad Paisley perform “Kiss An Angel Good Morning” in the opening medley at “The 50th Annual CMA Awards,” live Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville and broadcast on the ABC Television Network. Photo: courtesy CMA

Luke Bryan Jumps To No. 1 On ‘MusicRow’ CountryBreakout Radio Chart

Luke Bryan’s single moves up three positions from No. 4 to No. 1 this week on the MusicRow CountryBreakout Radio Chart. The single was written by Dallas Davidson, Justin Ebach, and Kyle Fishman.

“Down To One” appears on Bryan’s latest album Born Here Live Here Die Here which released in August of this year after a postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to his album postponement, his Proud To Be Right Here Tour was rescheduled for May of 2021.

This year, Bryan and his wife Caroline signed on as brand ambassadors for Jockey International, Inc. and are featured in their new campaign “There’s Only One Jockey.”

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BREAKING: Shannon Sanders Joins BMI’s Nashville Creative Team

Shannon Sanders. Photo: Jason Kempin for BMI

Veteran music industry executive Shannon Sanders will join BMI’s Nashville Creative team as an Executive Director. Sanders will be responsible for signing and developing top talent in the Nashville community and supporting BMI’s family of songwriters and publishers. He will report directly to BMI’s Vice President of Creative, Clay Bradley.

“Shannon has been an important source of advice and counsel for me since I joined BMI in March, and I’m thrilled that he will now be a key part of our Creative team,” said Bradley. “He is a Nashville native who has embraced all genres of music throughout his career and his accomplishments reflect the rich musical diversity of this city, which continues to grow and thrive. It is our job to represent the best talent Nashville has to offer, and Shannon’s voice and vision will be invaluable as we continue that mission.”

Said Sanders, “I am excited about my new role at BMI and am inspired by Clay and his vision. As part of this tremendous Creative team, I look forward to helping further the efforts of BMI in our songwriting community and beyond. Being a creator myself, I know the value of this organization. I’ve always been a champion for creators, and I consider it an honor to be able to offer support and facilitate opportunities for my fellow songwriters.”

As a 25-year music industry veteran, Sanders joins BMI as a two-time Grammy, two-time Emmy, and Dove Award winning songwriter-producer with an ear for current trends as well as an appreciation of legacy artists. He is the founder and original Program Director of Nashville’s 102.1 The VILLE, a classic soul and R&B radio station that is committed to playing local artists. Additionally, he has served as musical director to India.Arie for 20 years.

As a respected member of Nashville’s music industry, Sanders is a trusted advocate for music creators. He is involved in numerous organizations, including the Recording Academy (Trustee), NMAAM (National Museum of African American Music), Leadership Music, Nashville Ballet, AIMP (Association of Independent Music Publishers), Country Music Hall of Fame Education Committee, W.O. Smith, and NME (Nashville Music Equality). Sanders also serves as a City Tourism Commissioner for the NCVC (Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation) and was named as one of the 2016 Black Enterprise 100 Modern Men of Distinction.

Sanders is an alum of Tennessee State University and was recently recognized among the University’s Distinguished Alumni.

BREAKING: Jennifer Way Promoted To Senior Vice President, Marketing, Sony Music Nashville

Jennifer Way. Photo: Matthew Berinato

Sony Music Nashville Chairman & CEO Randy Goodman announced today (Dec. 9) the promotion of Jennifer Way to the position of Senior Vice President, Marketing, Sony Music Nashville. Reporting directly to Goodman, Way will oversee all marketing efforts, which includes artist team leads, brand partnerships, digital marketing, international marketing, media and creative services for Sony Music Nashville and the roster of its three imprints, Arista, Columbia and RCA Nashville.

“Since joining SMN, Jen has exhibited an understanding of and the ability to adapt to the changing nature of the market and its impact on what marketing needs to look like in the future. That’s never been more vital than it is right now,” said Goodman. “I know Jen and the amazing team she will be leading will ensure our market place leadership in that regard.”

“I’m so thankful to Randy for his belief in me and entrusting me to lead this remarkable team,” said Way. “Under his vision and leadership, Sony Music Nashville has become not only one of the most exciting label groups in music today, but also one of the greatest places to work, with a culture that enables our team to thrive. I love the SMN Family—this team and our roster of artists—and I couldn’t be more honored or excited for this opportunity, as we navigate this ever-changing marketplace and continue to write this exciting chapter for Sony Music Nashville.”

Way, who joined Sony Music Nashville in 2016, has most notably led the marketing campaigns for Kane Brown, Miranda Lambert, Brad Paisley, Mitchell Tenpenny and Tenille Townes, among others. In deployment of Sony Music’s international objectives, Way has been extensively involved in SMN’s global artist development efforts and the breaking down of racial and genre barriers for country acts. Following her graduation from Berklee College of Music, she worked at UMG Nashville for over a decade and was integral in launching the careers of such entertainers as Chris Stapleton and Kacey Musgraves.

Way is a a colon cancer survivor, and is passionate about finding a cure for cancer. Blending her personal and professional passions, she helped facilitate Sarah Cannon partnerships with both Brad Paisley and Mitchell Tenpenny. Following Blackout Tuesday, she led the launch of Kane Brown’s “Worldwide Beautiful,” benefitting the Boys & Girls Club of America to advocate for justice and equality for youth.

Way was named part of MusicRow’s 2021 N.B.T. Music Industry list.

She resides in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband Joel and son Liam. Way can be reached at [email protected].

ACM Announces Industry Award And Studio Recording Winners For 55th ACM Awards

The Academy of Country Music’s reigning New Male Artist Riley Green and New Female Artist Tenille Townes announced the Industry Award and Studio Recording Award winners for the 55th ACM Awards today (Dec. 8) via Facebook.

The 2020 Industry Awards, the 2020 and 2021 Studio Recording Awards, along with Special Award recipients (to be announced next spring), will be honored during the 14th ACM Honors, an evening dedicated to recognizing the special honorees and off-camera category winners from both the 55th and 56th ACM Awards. There will not be 2021 Industry Award recipients as eligibility requirements were unable to be met due to the live entertainment shutdown caused by the pandemic.

The 14th ACM Honors will take place on Wednesday, August 25, 2021 at the historic Ryman Auditorium, with more details to come in early spring.

“A huge congratulations to this year’s Industry and Studio Recording Award winners. In recognition of the recent announcement of the re-opening of our ACM Lifting Lives COVID-19 Response Fund which has already raised $3.5 million to aid our industry, it is especially fitting to acknowledge these deserving winners this year, and we are excited to properly recognize them in person in Nashville next August 2021 at the 14th ACM Honors,” said CEO of the Academy of Country Music, Damon Whiteside. “Never has there been a more important time to recognize these individuals and highlight our industry’s on-going dedication and innovation throughout this difficult year. Our community has been devastated by the pandemic, and we can’t wait to see it come back stronger than ever in 2021.”

Below is a complete list of the Industry Awards and Studio Recording Award winners for the 55th Academy of Country Music Awards:

INDUSTRY AWARDS:
CASINO OF THE YEAR – THEATER: The Joint: Tulsa – Tulsa, OK
CASINO OF THE YEAR – ARENA: MGM Grand Garden Arena – Las Vegas, NV
FAIR/RODEO OF THE YEAR: Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo – Houston, TX
FESTIVAL OF THE YEAR: Tortuga Music Festival – Fort Lauderdale, FL
CLUB OF THE YEAR: Joe’s Live – Rosemont, IL
THEATER OF THE YEAR: The Beacon Theatre – New York, NY
OUTDOOR VENUE OF THE YEAR: Red Rocks Amphitheatre – Morrison, CO
ARENA OF THE YEAR: Madison Square Garden – New York, NY
DON ROMEO TALENT BUYER OF THE YEAR: Gil Cunningham – Neste Live!
PROMOTER OF THE YEAR: Brian O’Connell – Live Nation

STUDIO RECORDING AWARDS:
BASS PLAYER OF THE YEAR – Jimmie Lee Sloas
DRUMMER OF THE YEAR – Miles McPherson
GUITAR PLAYER OF THE YEAR – Rob McNelley
PIANO/KEYBOARDS PLAYER OF THE YEAR – Gordon Mote
SPECIALTY INSTRUMENT(S) PLAYER OF THE YEAR – Jenee Fleenor
STEEL GUITAR PLAYER OF THE YEAR – Paul Franklin
AUDIO ENGINEER OF THE YEAR – Justin Niebank
PRODUCER OF THE YEAR – busbee (Awarded Posthumously)

The Academy of Country Music Studio Recording Awards are voted on by the membership categorized in the Artist/Musician/Producer/Engineer category. Industry Awards are voted on by the membership categorized in the Artist/Musician/Producer/Engineer, Venue, Manager, Talent Agent and Talent Buyer/Promoter.