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Jeff Walker, Nashville Business Leader, Dies at 65

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Jeff Walker, president and CEO of the AristoMedia Group/Marco Media Group. 

The Nashville music industry is mourning the loss of one of its most beloved figures, Jeff Walker, who passed away suddenly on Monday. He was believed to have been 65. 

Walker suffered from a heart attack at Nashville International Airport. He died later that night in an area hospital. 

Walker made his mark as president and CEO of the AristoMedia Group/Marco Media Group, a diversified entertainment company with branches in publicity, radio and music video promotion and country dance club marketing, among other areas. The company, which worked with both country and Christian music acts, marked its 35th anniversary in April.

"When I saw a need for something, I just tried to fulfill the need because I liked the challenge of it," Walker told the performance industry magazine Encore in a 2010 interview, explaining the broad reach of his company.

In addition to being known as an avid supporter of both artists and the country music industry in general, the affable Walker is being remembered for being a constantly upbeat presence, appreciated as much for his puns as for his prowess in the industry. He also had a keen eye for executive talent, and provided early-career jobs for numerous people who later populated businesses all over Music Row, many of whom were hailing him as a mentor on social media following his death. 

In addition to championing Nashville acts, the Sydney, Australia, native was an advocate for international country music artists and for 12 years organized the packed annual global artists showcase in Nashville for talent from around the world during the CMA Music Festival. The Country Music Assn. honored him for his efforts in expanding country music's reach internationally with its Jo Walker-Meador International Award. Last fall, the Australian Country Music Assn. also honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
 
Walker was a longtime board member for both the Country Music Assn. and trade group Country Radio Seminar. He served on the latter board for 35 years and had recently been re-elected as its treasurer. In June, he was honored with the CRS President's Award. A 1992 graduate of Nashville's prestigious Leadership Music program, he continued to give back to that organization, most recently serving as co-chairman of the group's 25th anniversary gala last year.

His company employed both his son, Jon Walker, and his daughter, Christy Walker-Watkins, as well as her husband, Matt Watkins. His wife Terri, father Bill Walker, stepmother Jeanine, daughter-in-law Tessa and two granddaughters also survive Walker.

Walker was a second-generation member of the country music industry. His father, Bill was the musical director for "The Johnny Cash Show," in addition to producing records for Donna Fargo, Roy Rogers, Billy Walker, Ferlin Husky and Wanda Jackson.

Jeff Walker moved to Nashville in 1974 and initially worked as an accountant before joining his father's business, Con Brio Records and Publishing. He worked there for three years before starting his own company, one of the first independent publicity firms to operate in Nashville.

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean issued a statement to Music Row: "Jeff Walker played an important role in spreading country music overseas and bringing country music talent from other countries to perform in Nashville. His zeal for growing country music's appeal around the globe made him an integral part of our Sister Cities program. In particular, Jeff helped develop our partnership with Tamworth, the Country Music Capital of Australia, and nurture our relationship with Edmonton, which also has strong music ties to Nashville."

"Jeff was instrumental in so many CMA efforts over the years, but chief among them was our international outreach and initiatives," CMA chief executive officer Sarah Trahern told The Tennessean. "He was incredibly passionate about supporting U.S. country artists going overseas, but he was just as dedicated to providing opportunities for international country artists to perform here. … His tireless energy on behalf of our organization, our artists, and our fans will be sorely missed."

The funeral will take place on Friday  August 28th,, 2015 at the First Baptist Church of Nashville. A private interment will follow.

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