Jim Foglesong, music industry executive and Blair instructor, dies

Jim Foglesong at the Country Music Hall of Fame. (John Russell/Vanderbilt)
Jim Foglesong at the Country Music Hall of Fame. (John Russell/Country Music Hall of Fame)

Jim Foglesong, a key figure in the rise of many country music stars including Garth Brooks and Barbara Mandrell who went on to build a second career as a beloved educator, died July 9. He was 90.

Foglesong taught “The Business of Music” at Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music from 1991 to 2012. The weekly three-hour seminar was one of the school’s most popular courses. After his retirement from teaching, Foglesong remained on Blair’s faculty as an adviser and continued to work closely with students. He began serving on Blair’s KeyBoard in 1992, most recently as a member of the Music Industry Outreach subcommittee.

“[rquote]Jim was a grand gentleman with a marvelously generous spirit,” said Mark Wait, dean of Blair School of Music.[/rquote] “He had a great ear for music of every kind, and he gave freely of his expertise to countless students and young professionals. I was privileged to know him and to learn from him.”

After serving in World War II, Foglesong studied at the Eastman School of Music as a voice major, graduating in 1950. He went to New York City, where he was hired by the Robert Shaw Chorale to sing the The Messa da Requiem by Giuseppe Verdi with the NBC Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Arturo Toscanini.

In 1951, he took a job with Columbia Records, working with engineers to transfer Columbia’s catalog to tape. Later, he helped launch Columbia’s Epic imprint, learning about distribution and promotion while producing acts including Bobby Vinton, Roy Hamilton, Julie Andrews, Doris Day and Robert Goulet.

In 1964, Foglesong moved to RCA Records, where he worked with Ed Ames, Al Hirt, Peter Nero, Marilyn Maye, Sergio Franchi, Miriam Makeba and the Norman Luboff Choir. During the 1960s he also produced a number of pop and country acts in Nashville, including Bobby Sykes, Les Paul and Mary Ford, the Ames Brothers and Hirt.

Foglesong moved to Nashville in 1970 to head Dot Records. Over the next decade, he worked with Roy Clark, Freddy Fender, Mandrell, Don Williams and The Oak Ridge Boys. After MCA acquired ABC/Dot in 1979, he took over MCA’s country division, in charge of a roster of artists that included Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard and Conway Twitty. He added George Strait and Reba McEntire, among others.

“Jim Foglesong was truly one of my heroes, and he’ll be sorely missed,” Williams said. “He was a giant in the industry and the model of a true gentleman. He was incredibly supportive of me as an artist and instrumental in much of the success I’ve enjoyed.”

In 1984, Foglesong became president of Capitol Records’ Nashville division. During his five years there, he oversaw the development of artists including Suzy Bogguss, Brooks, New Grass Revival, Marie Osmond, Sawyer Brown and Tanya Tucker.

Over the years, Foglesong chaired the boards of directors of the Country Music Association and the Country Music Foundation. He also served as a board member and president of the W. O. Smith Community Music School and as a board member of Leadership Music. In addition to teaching at Blair and Vanderbilt, Foglesong directed the music business program at Trevecca Nazarene University.