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Frances Preston, Country Music Hall of Famer and Former BMI President, Dies at 83

Frances Preston, Kris Kristofferson
Rick Diamond, Getty Images

Frances Williams Preston — a Country Music Hall of Famer, longtime friend to Nashville songwriters and dedicated humanitarian — has died. The former BMI president was surrounded by family when she gave way to congestive heart failure on Wednesday morning at the age of 83.

Preston opened the southern regional office of BMI (the company that licenses performing rights for songwriters and music publishers) in 1958 and was an integral part of helping artists build Nashville as the center of country music. She was a pioneer as a female executive of a major national corporation in Tennessee when she became vice president of BMI in 1964.

“Sad. Frances Williams Preston, one of the most successful execs in history of music industry, dies at 83,” James Otto tweeted. He shares the sentiments of thousands of famous performers who were touched by Preston’s generosity. Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, and Paul Simon are just four of the thousands of musicians she represented. If you’ve heard of an artist, it’s likely he or she knew Preston.

Additionally, Preston gave her time to President Jimmy Carter’s and numerous other presidential committees and councils. She was also the president and longtime board member of the T.J. Martell Foundation for Leukemia, Cancer and AIDS Research. Her legacy is carried on at Vanderbilt, where she’s the namesake of the Research Laboratories at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.

“Frances was awe-inspiring,” singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash tells the Tennessean. “I looked up to her so much — she was a charming, powerful woman in an entrenched boys club. She rose to the top, and gathered admirers as she advanced, rather than enemies. She had a lot of grace, a keen eye for business and a true love of music.”

Preston is survived by her three sons and six grandchildren. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

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