Nashville Notes: Jordin Sparks Goes Country; Ricky Skaggs to Be Honored; Fargo Station Makes Switch

Rick Diamond/Getty Images for CMT

Thomas Rhett performs onstage during the CMT Ultimate Kickoff Party Live From the College Football Playoff Championship on January 9, 2015 in Dallas, Texas. 

Sparks will appear on Thomas Rhett's upcoming album.

Here is your weekly roundup of goings on -- artist signings, staffing moves, good news and more -- in the wide world of country music.


The fifth annual iHeartRadio Music Festival will weave at least three country artists into its multigenre mix Sept. 18-19 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Kenny Chesney, Blake Shelton and Lee Brice are booked for the concerts alongside Kanye West, The Who, Duran Duran and Janet Jackson, among others. Hosted by Ryan Seacrest, the shows will be presented live on iHeart stations and iHeartRadio, and will be edited into a two-night TV special that will air on the CW Sept. 29-30.

Fandango presents four more country acts in its I Love Movies video series, which launched in June with installments featuring Darius Rucker and Reba McEntire. The new editions include Brad Paisley (who praises It's a Wonderful Life), Scotty McCreery (Miracle), Old Dominion (Back to the Future) and Maddie & Tae (The Strangers). The episodes debuted July 29, just in time to promote the Aug. 4 ABC telecast of CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock.

Thomas Rhett hosts two unexpected guests on his sophomore album, Tangled Up, which arrives Sept. 25. The 13-track set includes an appearance by R&B vocalist Jordin Sparks on "Playing With Fire" and a drop-in from rapper Lunch Money Lewis on "I Feel Good." Rhett has co-writing credits on seven of the album's tracks, including "Like It's the Last Time," which teams him with songwriters Ben Hayslip ("Honey Bee," "Small Town Throwdown") and Rhett Akins ("Boys 'Round Here," "Young & Crazy"), who's also Rhett's father.

The lineups continue to fill out for two awards events taking place in September at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium. Don Henley and Ricky Skaggs have been named Lifetime Achievement Awards recipients for the Americana Music Association Honors & Awards on Sept. 16. Also being recognized that night are Los Lobos, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. In the meantime, Jake Owen has been tapped as a returning host for the ACM Honors on Sept. 1, where the Academy of Country Music will recognize winners of its industry awards. Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert, Restless Heart and Randy Houser are among the night's performers and presenters.


Maranda McGeary has joined Universal Music Group Nashville as director, brand partnerships. She was most recently Revolution Pictures head of music and brand relations in Music City. 

Veteran manager Stuart Dill has been named the Vanderbilt University Medical Center's entertainment industry liaison, starting Aug. 4. He founded the Dill Management Group. 

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is making more than 3,000 images photographed by Elmer Williams from 1952-1962 available through Getty Images. The collection includes photos of Johnny Cash, The Everly Brothers and Brenda Lee, and signals the beginning of a larger partnership between Getty and the Hall. 

Parallel Music Publishing signed singer-songwriter Alex Hall for publishing and management. The Georgia native has opened for Scotty McCreery, Jana Kramer and Thomas Rhett

Indie artist Rick Monroe signed an endorsement deal with McPherson Guitars. 

Bluegrass band Nothin' Fancy signed a recording deal with Mountain Fever. 

Steel guitarist Buddy Emmons, one of the instrument's most celebrated innovators, died July 29. A co-founder of the Sho-Bud steel guitar company, he played in the road bands of Little Jimmy Dickens and Ernest Tubb, and participated in such hits as George Strait's "Heartland," John Conlee's "Rose Colored Glasses" and Merle Haggard's "Ramblin' Fever." Go here for a more comprehensive list of credits. 

A memorial for Lynn Anderson was held Aug. 5 at Woodlawn-Roesch-Patton Funeral Home in Nashville. Best known for the million-selling "Rose Garden," Anderson won female vocalist awards from the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association while landing 18 titles in the top 10 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart from 1967-1984. Anderson died of a heart attack on July 30.


Indianapolis-based Emmis Communications promoted three executives to new upper-management roles, effective Aug. 1. Patrick Walsh rose to president/COO from executive vp/CFO/COO. Ryan Hornaday was upped to executive vp/CFO/treasurer from senior vp finance/treasurer. Christopher Rickenbach was retitled vp finance/assistant treasurer after serving as finance manager. The chain's country stations include WLHK Indianapolis and WTHI Terre Haute, Ind.

Westwood One added two directors of national partnerships, Angela Codella and Roman Gwin. The New York-based Codella was previously a Sirius XM account director. The Los Angeles-based Gwin was the national account director for iHeartMedia's Total Traffic and Weather Networks. 

Renegade Radio Nashville added Robby Lynn as morning host. Lynn will continue to host the syndicated Sunday's Kind of Country.  

WNSH New York PD Brian Thomas was reassigned as PD for classic hits WLS-FM Chicago, blogger Robert Feder reported. Thomas remains corporate country PD. 

KQWB Fargo, N.D., abandoned its classic country format by taking on the syndicated Fox Sports Radio format, according to 

WGLR Plattesville, Wis., personality Julie Jacobs is departing after eight years with the station, reported. 

iHeartMedia installed three new market managers, according to Jeff McCausland becomes iHeartMedia/Wichita (Kan.) president, following a run as Sinclair Broadcast Group/Wichita GM. iHeart's Wichita holdings include country KZSN. Matt Saunders relocates as iHeart/Springfield (Mo.), president, a job that includes oversight of country KSWF, after serving as iHeart/St. Louis vp sales. And iHeartMedia/Charlotte (N.C.) promoted Keith Hotchkiss to market president from senior vp sales. The cluster's six stations include country WKKT.


In the aftermath of the 1985 benefit concert Live Aid, Willie Nelson determined that American family farmers needed their own fundraiser, and he established the Farm Aid franchise with a massive guest list in Champaign, Ill., on Sept. 22, 1985.

Three decades later, Nelson is still slugging it out on behalf of farmers, and the 30th-anniversary edition returns to Illinois with a Sept. 19 concert at FirstMerit Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island in Chicago. Kacey Musgraves is on the bill, along with Old Crow Medicine Show, Holly Williams, rock band Imagine Dragons and classic-soul vocalist Mavis Staples, among others. Also appearing are Nelson's fellow Farm Aid board members Neil Young, Dave Matthews and John Mellencamp.

This article first appeared in Billboard's Country Update -- sign up here.