Nashville Notes: Willie Nelson Goes Gershwin; Big Machine Expands to London

Willie Nelson Farm Aid
Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images

Willie Nelson performs during Farm Aid 30 at the FirstMerit Bank Pavilion on Northerly Island Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, in Chicago. 

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

?LoCash, Chris Janson, Mac Davis and The Shuggah Pies are among the artists announced for the ninth annual Jeffrey Steele and Friends benefit for the Alex LeVasseur Memorial Fund, a charity that seeks to improve the lives of at-risk kids in Middle Tennessee. The fund is named after Steele’s son, who died in a 2007 four-wheeling accident. The show is scheduled for March 7 at the Franklin Theatre in Middle Tennessee.

Cyndi Lauper will be the centerpiece of a Skyville Live live-streaming event, "Girls Just Wanna Have Friends," on Jan. 28. Kelsea Ballerini is slated for an appearance, as is singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson. The multi-genre series has previously matched Martina McBride with Gladys Knight, Lady Antebellum with Jason Isbell and Kris Kristofferson, and Gregg Allman with Little Big Town and Chris Stapleton.

Willie Nelson was the first country figure to receive the Library of Congress' Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, and he's also the first recipient to turn around and recognize George and Ira Gershwin with an album. Nelson, who has frequently mined the traditional pop songbook for projects since his landmark album Stardust, has Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin on deck for a Feb. 26 release via Legacy. The set includes such familiar titles as "It Ain't Necessarily So," "I Got Rhythm" and "They Can't Take That Away From Me."

PBS telecast the Gershwin ceremony on Jan. 15. The night included a Jamey Johnson and Alison Krauss cover of Nelson's Ray Charles duet "Seven Spanish Angels," Raul Malo's reading of "Crazy" and a Nelson statement on immigration as he teamed with his sons' Promise of the Real for "Living in the Promiseland."

Vince Gill will be added to the Hollywood RockWalk on Los Angeles' Sunset Boulevard on Feb. 4. The ceremony, scheduled eight days before the release of his album Down to My Last Bad Habit, lands Gill on the pavement among such figures as Carl Perkins, Eric Clapton and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Gill is also on tap to sing America's national anthem during the NHL All-Star Game on Jan. 31 in Nashville. Lennon and Maisy Stella will deliver the Canadian national anthem, with Lee Brice performing during the pregame ceremony and Jennifer Nettles playing during the second intermission.



Big Machine Label Group has established a London office. The initial staff includes head of international Chris Koegen, label manager Alexandra Hannaby and label coordinator Amy Maunder-Taylor. 

The Messina Touring Group promoted five employees. Mike Dugan rose to president from tour coordinator; Rome McMahon and Kate McMahon were lifted to executive vp from tour rep and vp/senior marketing director, respectively; and Bridget Bauer and Sara Winter were upped to senior vp from tour coordinator and director of tour marketing, respectively. 

Wortman Works Media & Marketing welcomed Lisa Chader as a principal. Chader was executive vp at NPG PR.

Wortman Works president Jules Wortman has also established a new hair and makeup service, Stylist On Call. 

Producer Dave Cobb (Chris Stapleton, A Thousand Horses) will take over management of the historic RCA Studio A in April as Ben Folds ends a 14-year run at the Music Row site. 

Singer-songwriter Jackson Michelson signed with Curb.

Guitarist Pete Huttlinger died from a stroke on Jan. 15 at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. With 15 albums under his belt, he spent four years as lead guitar player for John Denver. A memorial service is anticipated at a later date. 

Joe Moscheo died Jan. 11 in Nashville. A background singer for Elvis Presley during his tenure with The Imperials, Moscheo spent 16 years as a BMI vp before going into artist management and a stint in the entertainment/music division of First Union Bank.



iHeartMedia named four division presidents, each of them promoted from executive vp operations. They include president of the Northeast division Hartley Adkins, West division president Greg Ashlock, Central division president Matt Martin and Midwest/Southeast division president Tom McConnell. 

Sam Hunt is among the initial artists announced for the annual iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas Sept. 23-24. 

WUSN Chicago music director Marci Braun has been named a co-host of United Stations Radio Networks' Serving Your Country, a syndicated program already hosted by WUSN personality Ramblin' Ray Stevens. 

The WSM-AM Nashville morning show Coffee, Country & Cody, featuring host Bill Cody, joins the Heartland Network's TV lineup. Heartland affiliates include WBMA-TV Birmingham, Ala.; WKMG-TV Orlando, Fla.; and KNMQ-TV Albuquerque, N.M. 

CBS Radio/Phoenix hired Dave Pugh as senior vp/market manager for the cluster, which includes country KMLE. He was previously a regional vp for San Francisco-based Veritone Media. KMLE also moved Christopher “Matthews" Wagnon to mornings from middays. 

WOTW Orlando, Fla., added Len Shackelford as PD on Jan. 19. He was most recently Cox Media/Orlando operations manager/country format coordinator. 

Scott Gaines joined WGKX Memphis as afternoon host on Jan. 19 and became an on-air personality for Westwood One's mainstream country format. Gaines had been an air talent for WSM-FM Nashville. 

WKHX Atlanta introduced CJ Lusk as afternoon personality on Jan. 15. He arrived from WHBQ Memphis, where he was a morning personality/social media director. 

Cox Media Group tapped Jodi Rainey as its director of national sales, adding to her role as Cox/
Jacksonville and Tampa (Fla.) regional national sales manager.

KMPS Seattle hired Kenny Jay as PD, reported. He had held the same post at KMNB Minneapolis-St. Paul.

WITL Lansing, Mich., assistant PD Jordan Lee died Jan. 9 after 22 years with the station. 

WXRL Buffalo, N.Y., owner Ramblin' Lou Shriver died Jan. 17, according to WKBW-TV Buffalo.



The gloves come off in the weekly chart battles, but they go on for Rumble on the Row, a boxing benefit now in its 12th year.

Set for March 4 at Liberty Hall in Franklin, Tenn., this year's card has two bouts. RCA Nashville director of national promotion Josh Easler faces EMI director of regional promotion Chris Fabiani, and Arista Nashville manager of regional promotion Rusty Sherrill mixes it up with Jon Andolina, director of tour marketing/sponsorships for Jake Owen. The night includes other attractions -- music, gourmet food and a silent auction -- and revenue aids the Charley Foundation, a nonprofit that supports multiple children's charities.

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


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