Jim Foglesong In Memoriam: Nashville Pays Tribute To Legendary Music Exec, Country Music Hall of Famer

From left: Garth Brooks, Jim Foglesong and and Allen Reynolds at the 2009 Leadership Music Dale Franklin Award at the Renaissance Hotel on August 23, 2009 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Beth Gwinn/Getty Images)

For all his successes in the music industry, veteran record executive Jim Foglesong is being remembered most by industry peers and artists this week for his warmth, his leadership, his professional ethics and his gentlemanly approach to a sometimes uncivil business. Foglesong died Tuesday at a Nashville hospital following a brief illness. He was 90 years old.

“Jim was one of the first people I met when I came to Nashville,” country superstar George Strait tells Billboard.biz. “I would wish that for every newcomer. His kind and gentle demeanor is rare today. He signed me to my first record deal, and his support and friendship was something I treasured.”

Jim Foglesong, Legendary Country Music Exec, Dead at 90

Foglesong is one of a select few non-performers to have earned a spot in the Country Music Hall of Fame. That honor was bestowed in 2004 after his retirement from the music business, where he headed a number of labels including MCA Nashville, ABC/Dot and Capitol. Upon his ascension from head of A&R to president of Dot in 1973, Foglesong became the first executive on Music Row to be given the title of president of a major record company. He also served as chairman of the Country Music Assn., an elected position.

Among his career highlights, Foglesong signed Strait and Garth Brooks to their label deals, along with numerous other future superstars. He also helped guide the careers of many more country hit-makers, among them: Tanya Tucker, Barbara Mandrell, Reba McEntire, the Oak Ridge Boys, Don Williams, Gene Watson, Donna Fargo, Sawyer Brown, Roy Clark, John Conlee, Lee Greenwood, Freddy Fender, Mel McDaniel and Dan Seals.

Duane Allen, lead singer for the Oak Ridge Boys, tells Billboard.biz that Foglesong was “the most important record executive in our recording career.” Adds Allen, “He is the man who placed his stamp of approval . . . that paved the way for us to have a country music career.”

Jim Foglesong's Country Music Hall of Fame index page. (screenshot)

Since retiring from the music business in the early 1990s, Foglesong served as an adjunct professor and administrator for Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music, and also founded Trevecca Nazarene University’s music industry program. He retired from Trevecca in 2008 and from Vanderbilt last year, according to The Tennessean. Among numerous other awards and honors, Foglesong was a 2009 recipient of Leadership Music’s prestigious Dale Franklin Award, along with Brooks and producer Allan Reynolds.

Even in the competitive record business, Foglesong was always a gentleman first, according to other record label heads who cite him as a role model.

Curb records chairman Mike Curb tells Billboard.biz, “Jim set the standard for ethical business practices and artist-friendly relationships. He was not only a great business man, but he also had amazing creative instincts and a warm personal presence and leadership style that brought success throughout his entire career. Everyone who worked with him during his career, and everyone who learned from him when he taught later in his life, will never forget the impact that he made on our industry.”

Mike Dungan, chairman and CEO of UMG Nashville, says, “His contributions to our industry were obviously extraordinary, and as a relatively young executive and label head, I sought his advice on all matters of business. More importantly, I admired his gentle nature and the way that he always carried himself with dignity and respect for others. I usually prefaced his name with the words ‘the nicest man in the music business.’ I hoped that some of that might rub off on me. I wanted to be that kind of leader.”

Veteran record producer Jim Ed Norman, who was also the longtime head of the label now known as Warner Music Nashville, says he’s “heartbroken” by Foglesong’s death.

“He served not only as a personal inspiration, but also as a constant reminder of the life lived with grace,” says Norman. “He didn’t let circumstances—about which many people would become bitter, vengeful or defeated—stop him, but rather he continued to walk through this world with an exceptional dignity. His steady hand made many wonderful contributions to this business, and when an honest accounting is provided, it’s clear his influence and guidance is responsible for much of what Nashville is today.”

Jim Foglesong with Barbra Mandrell

Former Sony Music Nashville chairman Joe Galante offers a string of compliments to describe Foglesong, including: talented, honest, respected, caring and funny. Says Galante, “Jim was a true gentleman. He leaves behind a long list of artists and executives that he helped both professionally and personally. His impact on the business will continue to be felt through the many students he has been teaching over the past several years. He will be missed.”

Katie Gillon, now VP/GM at indie label Wrinkled Records, was a close friend of Foglesong, and worked with him at several labels. She says, “Jim was truly a great and gentle man who generously treated all he met with kindness and class. He was a soft-spoken music man.

“He was unassuming and humble and had a charming sense of humor,” adds Gillon. “I will never forget mailing out promos to radio in the Dot Records days. Jim would be sitting right in the middle of the floor with the rest of the staff helping us get the mailings out. I saw him always pitch in to help the team accomplish goals. He showed us how leave the ego at the door.”

Artists, too, are mourning his loss. In a prepared statement, Brooks said, “The music industry lost its greatest diplomat for kindness, tolerance, faith, and sincerity . . . Truly, a great, great man.”

Don Williams, who is himself known as “the gentle giant,” offered this assessment of Foglesong: “He was a giant in the industry and the model of a true gentleman. He was incredibly supportive of me as an artist and instrumental in much of the success I’ve enjoyed.”

Allen of the Oak Ridge Boys visited Foglesong in the hospital last week, and tells Billboard.biz, “I have always called him the ‘gentle man’ of the music industry—two words.

“When we were trying to cross over from gospel music to country, we went to visit with just about every record label executive in Nashville,” recalls Allen. “They all gave us the same response: ‘We already have a country group.’ We lived with that mind-set until we met Jim Foglesong. He believed in us, and he made room at ABC/Dot/MCA for the Oak Ridge Boys  . . All of our major success in country music started with . . . Jim Foglesong.”

Survivors include Foglesong’s wife of 62 years, Toni, four children: James Jr., Cindy, Leslie and Rusty, and 16 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.

“We have lost a giant man,” says Gillon, “but the incredible legacy he left us will live on in those of us who had the honor of having him in our lives.”