In the late fall of 1988, Jim Ed Norman hosted a luncheon for a small group of music executives in the conference room of the old Warner Bros. building, across from the funeral parlor on Demonbreun Street (now the Bristol on Broadway). Everyone in attendance was an experienced professional, and all had graduated from the Leadership Nashville program – the community issues-awareness program created to nurture communication and cooperation among accomplished Nashvillians positioned to “make a difference.”
Jim Ed’s message was simple: Nashville’s music community had been built on a foundation of informal communication, mutual understanding, honorable competition and trust. But the modern industry—its size in dollars and personnel—had undermined our informal approach to communication and competition; we could no longer depend on breakfast at Pancake Pantry or a drink at Faison’s to keep Nashville’s unique work ethic alive.
Jim Ed proposed a formal program that could rebuild and sustain the cooperation and mutual respect that made our entertainment scene so special, and after much discussion, the group agreed. We would develop something akin to Leadership Nashville, but focused closely on the special character of Nashville’s music industry. Leadership Music was born.
On the surface, the new program looked deceptively like its model; we rode around in buses, held panel discussions, and presented outrageous and insightful skits at Closing Retreat. But Leadership Music quickly developed its own character. Because we concentrated on a single industry, LM could dig deep into every issue; because class members knew plenty about how the industry worked, it was hard for panelists to get away with deception and “spin” because Leadership Music engaged people, the level of humor, musical artistry, imaginative class programming, and old-fashioned fun was consistently high.
It was a different time. When the first class gathered in the fall of 1989, Clint Black was on his second Number 1 hit; nobody had heard of Napster or Clear Channel; Nashville had not yet consolidated as the world center for Gospel and Christian music, and, if you owned a few thousand shares of a West Coast start-up, Microsoft, you might have laughed if somebody told you that you were getting ready to be very, very rich. Our global economy and the business model of our industry have both shifted dramatically in the last few years, but Leadership Music has tracked every change, all the while improving the level of service to participants, creating terrific special projects, and assembling an alumni association that’s a real Who’s Who of the Nashville entertainment scene. As we celebrate the Class of 2017, those leaders who lunched with Jim Ed Norman can be proud of the process that was set in motion more than two decades ago.
Leadership Music Founding Council