The Schermerhorn Symphony Center is indeed one of the new crown jewels of Nashville, Tennessee. Last night, I sat in the Sympony Hall while Leadership Music honored another one of Nashville’s crown jewels, Francis Williams Preston. Ms. Preston was honored with Leadership Music’s Dale Franklin Award, named for the first executive director of Leadership Music. The award was created in 2004 “to recognize a music industry leader who exemplifies the highest quality of leadership and leading by example.”
Serving as the president of BMI, a performance rights organization headquartered on Music Row in Nashville, Preston has influenced and nurtured the careers of thousands of songwriters, performers and publishers in all genres during her five-decade reign. Fortune magazine once identified Preston as “one of the true powerhouses of the pop music business.”
The gala was attended by literally hundreds of music industry dignitaries as well as friends and family of Preston. Vince Gill served as a delightful emcee, introducing star-studded musical performances by Sam Moore, Sheryl Crow, Mandessa, Gary Morris, Randy Owens, and a special surprise performance by her grandson, Taylor Preston. There were also video presentations from Vice President Al Gore, Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton, Michael Bolton and others. Preston was presented with letters from senators and congressmen on both sides of the aisle, as well as a letter from President George Bush. Among the highlights of the evening was a moving performance of the classic “You are so beautiful” by Sam Moore and a performance of the musical composition “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” by one of its writers, Steve Cropper. The latter composition is the 7th largest grossing song in BMI’s catalog. Net proceeds from the evening will benefit the Frances Williams Preston Laboratories at Vanderbilt.
Frances Preston is truly a gifted and wonderful person who has helped so many people in the music industry. Coming up through the “good ole boy” ranks of the country music industry in the late 50’s, Preston blazed a path as the first female executive in Tennessee. But perhaps more important than that, Preston stands gracefully as an icon that this business should be about relationships, not money. She is indeed deserving of the honors she has received, which includes an induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
The Oak Ridge Boys’ Duane Allen perhaps summed it up well when he said, “She made [the Nashville songwriters] internationally known. I would hate to think what the music industry would be without her. . . .”
Frances Preston is truly a Nashville matriarch.
Preston joins previous Dale Franklin Leadership Award winners Emmylou Harris (2006), radio personality Gerry House (2005) and producer/label executive Tony Brown (2004).