On A High Note

Remembering the wonderful legacy of Frances Preston

Frances Preston

Note: Chris Lee, normally our sports columnist, is filling in for Jessi Maness while she’s on a brief vacation.

Frances Preston

Frances Preston

Nashville became “Music City” because of the slew of great people who’ve come though our town over the last century or so. The last few years, though, it seems we’ve been losing too many of them – and we lost another great one last week with the passing of Frances Preston.

Few who’ve called our city home accomplished more than Preston did. She started in the mail room at BMI in the 1950s, but by the next decade, she’d become Nashville’s first female business executive when she was promoted to vice president. Twenty-one years later, the company moved her to New York and made her a senior VP of performance rights. By the next year, she was president and CEO of the company.

Impressive resume, for sure. But what made Mrs. Preston truly special was what she did for others.

While Frances Preston never recorded a song of her own, there are literally thousands – no, make that hundreds of thousands – who owe her a great debt for her role in helping them make money off their work. She was a key player behind the Copyrights Amendment Act of 1992, which extended protections for an artists’ work for decades beyond what it had before – even after their deaths. Perhaps not coincidentally, she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame the same year.

Of course, it was also good business for BMI: its revenues tripled while she was in charge.

Preston’s longevity was a result of being able to change with the times. She launched the company’s first website in 1994, and continued working for the company well into the Digital Age for another decade, helping artists protect the rights to their work in a time where royalties were quickly disappearing and the music industry struggled to know what to do about it.

Her legacy in business will live on for decades to come, but more importantly, Mrs. Preston was a good and generous person. The phrase “friend to songwriters” is commonly uttered on Music Row when her name comes up.

And then, there’s the matter of her benevolence. She was president of the T.J. Martell Foundation for Leukemia, Cancer and AIDS Research, which is the music industry’s largest charity. The Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center named a lab after her as well.

No wonder that when the National Songwriter’s Foundation gave her a Mentor Award in 2010, they subsequently renamed it the Frances Williams Preston Mentor Award. A more appropriate name could have hardly been chosen.

From those of us at Sports and Entertainment Nashville Magazine, we extend our condolences to Frances Preston’s friends and family. We know she’ll be missed.