Music Business Association Chairman Resigns Following Annual Conference

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The chairman of the Music Business Association has voluntarily resigned his position, days after making a bad-taste joke about women artists who performed at the organization’s Music Biz conference, held in Nashville May 5-8.

Shortly after the Country Music Association put on a presentation at the conference May 6 which saw three female artists -- Kassi Ashton, Cassadee Pope and Danielle Bradbery -- each performing two songs that Monday morning, the Music Biz Assn. chairman, Steve Harkins -- formerly vp/GM of music for Baker & Taylor and now with Ingram Entertainment -- took the stage to talk about the association's scholarship program. But he began with an apparent reference to presidential candidate Joe Biden’s inappropriate behavior with women, and after acknowledging the artists’ talent suggested to “smell their hair” of the women who had just performed.

As a consequence of what some said was a degrading joke, when it became obvious to Harkins that some were offended, he resigned from the post on May 8, and, sources say, apologized to the CMA. Harkins was viewed as an interim chairman, having replaced Facebook’s Fred Beteille, who had been chairman since 2014 but resigned in mid-December 2018 due to workload, according to sources.

Most industry executives and Music Biz board members contacted by Billboard either didn’t return calls or declined comment. But one female executive familiar with the situation, requesting anonymity, said, “I just thought he was stupid and it blew up in his face as a bad joke.” But others felt differently, sources say.

The organization issued a statement about Harkins’ resignation. "The Music Business Association Board of Directors met in Nashville last week during its Music Biz 2019 Annual Conference. At that meeting, Steve Harkins -- who had been serving as Board Chairman in an interim capacity -- tendered his resignation as Chairman. Harkins has also resigned as a Director on the Board effective immediately."

The website now lists Amazon's Ryan Redington as vice chairman, Warner Music Nashville's Matt Signore as treasurer and Ingrooves’ Amy Dietz as secretary, along with 14 other board members.

Harkins didn’t respond immediately to a request for comment.