Fans around the world have long been on a first-name basis with country music’s biggest stars — Dolly, Loretta, Patsy, Reba. But in the 1970s, as Music Row transitioned from the home of hillbilly honky-tonk into its vibrant contemporary era, it was one-name wonder women Frances, Jo, Dianne, Donna and Connie who ran the show.
In the good-ol'-boy-dominated enclave of the country music industry, Connie Bradley led ASCAP Nashville for more than three decades before retiring in 2010. She was an integral member of the female force field heading performing rights organizations (BMI, SESAC, ASCAP), trade groups (CMA) and publishing powerhouses (Tree Publishing). Bradley died March 24 in Florida, where she had a home with husband Jerry.
Born in Fayetteville, Tennessee, and raised in Shelbyville, Bradley was country through and through — her deep Southern accent, impeccably coiffed blond hair, pageant-queen wardrobe, dazzling smile, easy laugh, vivacious verve and warm style connected her immediately to the small-town roots of the big-time songwriters she represented. But her professional performance was direct and to-the-point. She did not mince words or take no for an answer.
Joe Galante, a brash New Yorker who came to Nashville in the 1970s and remains Row Ruler Emeritus, met Bradley in 1976 when both were new to RCA Records. He remembers that, when he was first in a position to steer his artists to join a performing rights organization, he naturally went to BMI, where his mentor Frances Preston held the keys to the kingdom. Bradley addressed the issue head-on over lunch one day early in her new position at ASCAP.
“She came right to it said, ‘Joe, I know what Frances means to you, but I really would like a shot,'" Galante says. "I started to laugh and told her she had a point. From that point forward, it became a more open playing field.”
Though the two were fierce competitors, Bradley also considered Preston a mentor.
"I thought Frances Preston was one of the classiest women I had ever met," Bradley said in a 2012 interview after Preston's death. "I watched how she did things, how she handled things, what she did when difficult situations arose, how she would put her arm around someone who was really mad and wanted to kill her, and by the time they walked off, she had them eating out of the palm of her hand. I saw her use fine china, good silver, nice things in the office. Everything was first-class, and I thought, 'That's what I want to do. I want everything to be first-class.'"
Among the artists and songwriters signed during Bradley's tenure were Reba McEntire, Alan Jackson, Amy Grant, George Strait, Garth Brooks, LeAnn Rimes, Brad Paisley and Kenny Chesney. Her influence extended to the board of directors of the CMA, where she served as both president and chair.
Galante last spoke to Bradley the Friday before she died.
“She was the same Connie,” he says. “She was always the same Connie. There was no difference in her from when she was an assistant at RCA to when she was the head of ASCAP, except for the power she had. She used it well. Frances set the pace back then, but Connie picked it up and went after it. I miss all of those women. They were each one of a kind.”