Here is your weekly roundup of goings on -- artist signings, staffing moves, good news and more -- in the wide world of country music.
NEWS & NOTES
With the flip of a calendar, the 51st annual Academy of Country Music Awards is just three months away, and the ACM is already setting the stage for its return to Las Vegas after a 2015 detour to AT&T Stadium in Texas. The stages will be packed, too, for the ACM Party for a Cause, a three-day festival April 1-3 that features Carrie Underwood, Dierks Bentley and Kenny Chesney as headliners. Other acts in the mix include Kelsea Ballerini, Kip Moore, Chris Young, Dustin Lynchand Kellie Pickler. Bentley co-hosts the ACMs for the first time on April 3 with Luke Bryan.
Jana Kramer's 2016 calendar launches with a special that airs Jan. 6 on AT&T's DirecTV and U-verse platforms. Shot on a rooftop above Lower Broadway in Nashville, the piece includes interview material plus performances of "Why Ya Wanna" and "I Got the Boy," which is currently positioned at No. 9 on Country Airplay.
Waylon Jennings maintained a distinct appearance during the key commercial years of a career that landed him in the Country Music Hall of Fame, and some of that uniqueness derived from his version of the western hat, a flat-topper with a pork pie feel that was featured on the cover of his multiplatinum Greatest Hits album. Jennings' estate, represented by licensing firm Midnight Rider, has partnered with Stetson to make a felt model of that hat -- nicknamed "The Lash" -- available for sale. The line goes to market on Feb. 1.
Record producer Dave Cobb (Chris Stapleton, A Thousand Horses) picked up four Grammy nominations in December, adding to the setup for his forthcoming compilation, Southern Family. Slated for a March 18 release through Elektra on Cobb's own Low Country Sound label, the project pulls together tracks from Jason Isbell, Miranda Lambert, Anderson East, Brandy Clark, Jamey Johnson, Morgane Stapleton and former Civil Wars member John Paul White, among others.
'ROUND THE ROW
Dierks Bentley manager Mary Hilliard Harrington joined Red Light Management in a senior position, months after selling her PR company, The GreenRoom. Harrington, who also manages Aubrie Sellers and Tucker Beathard, brings with her day-to-day manager Stephanie Johnson and digital exec Kevin Grace. In addition, the team added day-to-day manager Taylor Lee, formerly a William Morris agent trainee, and Heather Young, a previously independent radio promoter.
Warner Music Nashville promoted Chad Schultz to vp, radio marketing and promotion from national director.
Blain Rhodes joined Universal Music Group Nashville as director of A&R after four years at Warner/Chappell, where he was manager of A&R.
UMG Nashville also promoted Ashley Wilson to coordinator, media marketing, months after joining the company full time.
Splash PR promoted Miriam Friday to senior publicist/office administrator. She has been a publicist with the company for two years.
Shannon Turner joined the International Bluegrass Music Association as director, communications and professional development. She was previously an independent media/promotion exec and freelance writer.
The Country Music Association is seeking a senior manager of market research and senior manager of strategic partnerships.
Big Deal Music purchased Words & Music, a Nashville-based administrative firm whose clients include Chris Janson, Tim McGraw and Billy Currington. Words & Music president Kim McCollum-Mele remains with the company.
Singer/songwriter Leigh Nash signed a publishing deal with BMG Nashville.
Exile joined the roster at booking agency Buddy Lee Attractions.
Bluegrass group Mountain Faith signed a concert booking deal with the Agency for the Performing Arts in Nashville.
Bluegrass act Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper added multi-instrumentalist Cody Looper to the group, replacing Gaven Largent, who joins Blue Highway on Dobro.
Warner Music Nashville president/CEO John Esposito is the new Country Music Association board chairman, with Ryman Auditorium GM Sally Williams rising to president.
Morris Higham Management vp marketing Basak Kizilisik was named president of Society of Leaders in Development (SOLID). SESAC project manager Eric Wright was appointed SOLID vp.
Kenny Rogers and CMT president Brian Philips will be recognized during the eighth annual T.J. Martell Foundation Nashville Honors Gala on Feb. 29 at the Omni Nashville Hotel.
R&B singer Natalie Cole died Dec. 31. She was nominated for a Country Music Association Award in 1994, thanks to her participation in the album of the year finalist Rhythm Country & Blues, which featured her in a duet with Reba McEntire on "Since I Fell for You."
Songwriter/producer Luigi Creatore died Dec. 13 in Boca Raton, Fla. A co-writer of Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love," he partnered with Hugo Peretti to produce pop singles for Sam Cooke and Little Peggy March, and produced four country hits in the 1950s for Jimmie Rodgers.
Record producer Thomas "Snuff" Garrett died Dec. 16 at his home in Tucson, Ariz., The New York Times reported. In addition to a ream of pop hits, he produced country successes for Tanya Tucker, Merle Haggard and Clint Eastwood, David Frizzell and Shelly West, and Ronnie Milsap, among others.
Songwriter Don Pfrimmer died Dec. 7 of leukemia, according to CMT. His credits included Diamond Rio's "Meet in the Middle," Lonestar's "My Front Porch Looking In" and Lee Roy Parnell's "Love Without Mercy."
MOVERS & SHAKERS
J.R. Schumann started Dec. 28 as SiriusXM senior director, country programming, operating from the satcaster's Nashville office. He was previously KPLX/KSCS Dallas-Fort Worth operations manager.
Cumulus made a number of changes in its executive ranks just before the holiday break. Suzanne Grimes joined as Westwood One president/Cumulus executive vp corporate marketing, arriving from Clear Channel Outdoor North America, where she was president/COO. Cumulus senior vp brand partnerships Tommy Page added Nash brand strategies to his duties, and senior vp, content and programming Mike McVay was given content oversight for all of Cumulus' platforms in the newly formed office of programming. Additionally, Todd C. McCarty was hired as Cumulus chief human resources officer, arriving from Las Vegas Sands, where he was senior vp, global human resources.
Cumulus/New York promoted Mike Allan to assistant PD for WNSH, where he'll work with PD John Foxx. Allan is also assistant PD for adult contemporary WPLJ, where he was previously music coordinator.
Townsquare recruited Susan Kravitz as senior vp, head of national digital sales. She had been Say Media head of global sales.
SummitMedia/Birmingham (Ala.) welcomed John Walker as market president, which includes oversight of country WZZK. He was most recently a Cumulus regional vp.
Beasley/Las Vegas promoted John Candelaria to operations manager for the cluster, including country KCYE. He has been PD for rhythmic oldies KOAS and adult contemporary KVGS since 2012.
Alpha Media promoted Valerie Sickles to corporate marketing manager from Alpha/Louisville (Ky.) director of urban promotions and community affairs.
WDSY Pittsburgh parted ways with morning host Brian Montgomery and producer Katie Zak, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
Matt Stone joined Apex/Fort Walton Beach, Fla., as operations manager, according to RadioInfo.com. A former assistant PD at alternative XETRA San Diego, his new stations include country WHWY.
Tricia Gallenbeck joined the Reno Media Group as vp/GM, according to Inside-Radio.com, arriving from Beasley/Fayetteville, N.C., where she spent five years as director of sales. Reno Media's eight stations include country outlets KLOC and KSGG.
Former WSIX Nashville personality Robert "Hoss" Burns died Dec. 16 at his home in Old Hickory, Tenn. As a songwriter, he had titles recorded by Alan Jackson, Kenny Chesney and Dionne Warwick. A celebration of life is anticipated.
WGKX Memphis talent Mark Billingsley died Dec. 22, The Memphis Commercial Appeal reported. A 20-year station veteran, he underwent brain surgery in November and never regained consciousness.
Twenty-three years on, the Bluebird Cafe is connected to an Original idea that extends songwriters' commitment to Alive Hospice.
Keeping It Original for Alive is a 13-cut CD that offers the original demos to a number of hits, including Lee Brice's "I Don't Dance," Kenny Chesney's "Somewhere With You" and Frankie Ballard's "Helluva Life." All the proceeds benefit Alive Hospice, which provides comfort to Middle Tennessee patients with terminal conditions.
Assembled by producer Marshall Altman (Ballard, Eric Paslay), the project includes contributions from artist/writers John King, Chase Bryant and Old Dominion members Trevor Rosen and Brad Tursi, alongside such full-time songwriters as Dallas Davidson, Jessi Alexander and Rodney Clawson.
Keeping It Original for Alive is available through Alive Hospice and will soon be on iTunes. It will also be for sale during the month of January at the Bluebird as the Nashville club presents its annual series of benefit shows for the cause.
This article first appeared in Billboard's Country Update -- sign up here.