Called “one of the true powerhouses in the pop music business” by <em>Fortune</em> magazine, Frances Williams Preston could have ended up a schoolteacher.
August 27, 1928
June 13, 2012
Called “one of the true powerhouses in the pop music business” by Fortune magazine, Frances Williams Preston could have ended up a schoolteacher.
A summer job while a student at the George Peabody School for Teachers in Nashville changed all that. She briefly worked at the National Life and Accident Insurance Company, then at National Life’s subsidiary, Nashville radio station WSM, beginning as a receptionist. Rapidly she moved to the center of things at the station; for a period of time, she even had her own TV fashion show.
Because of her contacts and all-around ability, she was hired in 1958 by Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) executive Judge Robert J. Burton to open a BMI southern regional office in Nashville, to license performing rights for songwriters and music publishers. Quickly she led BMI to a position of preeminence in the South, signing and assisting countless country writers as well as publishers and those with roots in other idioms of popular music. Behind the scenes she played a major role in building Nashville as a music center.
In 1964, the year the Nashville BMI Building opened on Music Row, Preston became a vice president of BMI—reportedly, the first female executive of a major national corporation in Tennessee. Preston moved to BMI’s New York office in 1985, becoming senior vice president for performing rights, and president and CEO the following year. She was responsible for the company’s growth in a variety of areas, including domestic licensing, foreign performing rights, legislation for fair compensation for writers and publishers, and copyright protection.
Nationally prominent in business and political circles, Preston served on President Jimmy Carter’s Panama Canal Study Committee, the commission for the White House Record Library, and Vice President Albert Gore Jr.’s National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council. She also served as president of the T.J. Martell Foundation for Leukemia, Cancer, and AIDS Research.
Preston was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1992. -Burt Korall
Adapted from the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum’s Encyclopedia of Country Music, published by Oxford University Press