Donna Hilley, who spent 31 years at Sony/ATV Nashville -- eventually becoming the company's president and CEO -- and was one of the most prominent female publishing executives in country music, died Wednesday [June 20] of an extended illness. She was 65.
Hilley made a name for herself at Nashville radio station WKDA, where she spent eight years, before eventually joining former program director Jack Stapp at Tree International music publishing company, rising to EVP/COO. After Sony purchased Tree International in 1989 -- a deal which Hilley brokered -- she became president and CEO of Sony/ATV Nashville in 1994, retiring in 2005.
With Hilley at the helm, the company signed acts such as Little Big Town and Maypop and secured the back catalog publishing rights to country music legends such as Conway Twitty, Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. She also was appointed to the ASCAP board in 1994 and served on the board of the NMPA.
"Donna Hilley's legacy at Sony/ATV Music Publishing, on Music Row's artists and songwriters and on the broader Nashville community could never fully be expressed with words," said Sony/ATV chairman/CEO Martin Bandier and Sony ATV Nashville president/CEO Troy Tomlinson in a statement. "She was an icon in every sense -- an inspiring trailblazer for women executives in the music business, a staunch advocate for artists and songwriters and a genuine competitor who was respected and admired by her peers. Sony/ATV is forever better because of Donna's leadership and immeasurable contributions to our company. Our artists, writers and staff grieve today along with her family on the passing of our intrepid leader and great friend."
Hilley's awards and accolades were extensive, including being ranked No. 4 in Entertainment Weekly's "Ten Most Powerful People in Country Music" in 1992, grabbing the "Woman of the Year" title from the Business and Professional Women's Club in 1978, and being inducted into her home state's Alabama Music Hall of Fame, among others.
Visitation is scheduled for Friday evening at Woodlawn Funeral Home, according to Sony/ATV. The funeral service will be Saturday morning [June 23] at 11 am at Forrest Hills Baptist Church.