Frances W. Preston, Music Industry Legend, Dies at 83


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Frances W. Preston, the trailblazing music executive who smashed Music Row's glass ceiling as president and CEO of BMI for almost two decades — and worked to make that gender distinction irrelevant as one of the music industry's most powerful leaders — died today of congestive heart failure at her home in Nashville. She was 83.

You'll read much in the coming weeks about Preston's inestimable influence. But a fine place to start is this first-rate City Paper cover story by Kay West, which not only interviews Preston and provides an overview of her accomplishments — and her struggles against a good ol' boy network West aptly compares to the martinis-and-fanny-pats ambiance of Mad Men — but places her within the context of a larger story about the women who broke down Music Row's boardroom doors. A sample:

Over the span of her 46 years leading BMI, Frances Williams Preston established a reputation as a brilliant businesswoman that extended far beyond her hometown, even overseas. When she was named a vice president of BMI in 1964, she was reportedly the first female corporate executive in the state of Tennessee.

But in those days, there were still places where that meant nothing.

“I had to attend a business luncheon that was taking place at the Cumberland Club downtown [a members-only private club since disbanded],” Preston remembered. “I got off the elevator with a bunch of businessmen, and walked to the reception desk to ask to be directed to the luncheon.

“It was being held in a private dining room, in part because women were not allowed in the main dining room. I knew that, but what I didn’t know was they not only could we not eat in the main dining room, but women were forbidden to even be in it! So to prevent me from walking through their dining room, I had to take the elevator down a floor, then walk up the stairs and be let in the back door. It was so humiliating.”

They’d learn. Preston would become inarguably the most powerful woman in the Nashville music industry, and a force to be reckoned with nationwide for the next four decades.


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