Frances Preston Dies

Frances Williams Preston, who worked with top songwriters as president of the royalties company Broadcast Music Inc., died Wednesday. She was 83.

Preston was president of New York-based BMI, which collects and distributes royalties to songwriters, from 1986 to 2004. Before that, she was head of the company’s office in Nashville, where she was born and grew up.

Family spokeswoman Caroline Davis said Preston died at home of congestive heart failure.

During her career, Preston worked with dozens of artists including Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison, Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings and Tammy Wynette. As BMI president, she oversaw a company that represented Paul Simon, Janet Jackson, Sting and others.

In 1998, Preston received the highest Grammy award given to a non-performer, the National Trustees Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

She was a member of the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

Preston was credited with coining the Nashville songwriter’s creed, “It all begins with a song.”

A 1986 Fortune magazine article called her “one of the true powerhouses of the pop music business.”

“She was smart, beautiful, tenacious, and generous. She put BMI on the culture map and shaped the careers of many: especially mine,” BMI President and CEO Del Bryant said in a statement.

Jody Williams, the BMI vice president for writer and publisher relations, said Preston showed “profound respect” for songwriters, mentored many music executives during her career and used her powerful position to help establish Nashville as a major music center.

“She is without a doubt the single most important figure responsible for making Nashville ‘Music City,'” Williams said in an email.

Preston retired from BMI in 2004 and returned to Nashville in 2007.

During her tenure as BMI president, the company enjoyed a consistent record of increasing revenues and royalty distribution to its more than 300,000 songwriters and music publishers. She also helped pioneer the licensing of new digital media.