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Frances W. Preston Dead at 83, Country Music Hall of Famer Was Iconic Businesswoman

Photo Courtesy BMI

Frances Williams Preston, a pioneering executive in the music business for more than six decades, and a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, died Wednesday morning (June 13) at her home in Nashville. She was 83. The cause of death, according to a statement from performing rights organization BMI (Broadcast Music Inc.), was congestive heart failure.

Preston served as President and CEO of BMI from 1986 to 2004. Throughout her career, the Nashville native was an invaluable ally for countless songwriters, performers and publishers from all musical genres. Her appointment as Vice President of the organization in 1964 reportedly made her the first female corporate executive in Tennessee, and the first full-time performing rights organization representative in the South. In 1985, she became Senior Vice President, Performing Rights, and was named President and CEO the following year.

Kris Kristofferson dubbed Preston (pictured below with John Lennon) the “songwriter’s guardian angel” and Fortune magazine called her “one of the true powerhouses of the pop music business.” A tireless advocate for creators’ rights, she was instrumental in several key initiatives benefiting songwriters, including the Copyright Amendments Act of 1992, which extended copyright protection to older compositions. She also served as a member of the Panama Canal Study Committee, as well as on the commission for the White House Record Library during the Carter administration, and in 1995 and 1996, was a member of Vice President Al Gore’s National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council. In 1994, she oversaw the development and launch of BMI.com, one of the music’s industry’s first websites.

Photo Courtesy BMI

Born in Nashville on August 27, 1928, Frances Williams began her career as a receptionist at radio station WSM. She eventually hosted her own fashion show on the now-iconic station. The recipient of numerous industry honors, in 1992, she was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. She is also a member of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame. In 1998, she received the National Trustees Award from the Recording Academy (the highest Grammy prize for a non-performer). In 2011, the Library of American Broadcasting Association named her to its elite Giants of Broadcasting honoree ranks, and BMI rechristened the BMI Country Song of the Year the BMI Frances W. Preston Award. She was also the first non-performing woman invited to join New York’s prestigious Friar’s Club and in 1993, she became the first woman appointed to their Board of Directors. That same year, she received the Friar’s Applause Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Throughout her lifetime, Frances Preston supported numerous humanitarian efforts, including serving as president of the T. J. Martell Foundation for Leukemia, Cancer and AIDS Research, the music industry’s largest charity. She is the namesake of the Frances Williams Preston Research Laboratories at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville.

Preston is survived by her three sons, Kirk, David, and Donald, as well as six grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Funeral arrangements are pending at this time.

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