Gospel Music Industry Loses A Giant: A Personal Reflection From Lisa Collins
William Ray "Bill" Hearn, a highly admired and revered music industry executive who led the Nashville-based market-leading Capitol Christian Music Group (CCMG) as its Chairman & CEO, passed away December 10 at age 58 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Over the past 20 years, Hearn grew CCMG into the world's leading Christian Music company and market leader in recorded music and music publishing, helming a company that now operates several divisions, including CCMG Label Group (Sparrow Records, ForeFront Records, Hillsong, Jesus Culture) and Motown Gospel, which are home to such artists as Tasha Cobbs, Amy Grant, TobyMac, Hillsong United, Mandisa, Tye Tribbett and many others.
Sir Lucian Grainge, Chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group, said, "Bill Hearn led Capitol Christian Music Group like the family business it is: with his unique passionate and mission-driven leadership. Anyone who has walked through the doors there knows that it overflows with a special spirit that emanated from Bill himself. That spirit and the people of CCMG are among Bill's great legacies. We are privileged to have known Bill, and especially blessed to call him a colleague and friend."
I was one of those people whose career he helped to launch. He gave me one of my very first jobs and supported me throughout my 14-year tenure as Billboard Magazine’s gospel editor. And while his professional successes made me very proud, for me it boiled down to a personal relationship.
Bill was a friend and mentor. Not only was he someone I could—and did—go to for advice, but he was someone whose name I could freely leverage—and did.
There are so many special memories I have of Bill Hearn, but one funny incident stands out. It was after a heated meeting of about 20 gospel industry executives in Chicago partly over the Contemporary Christian Industry’s desire to classify our music as “Black gospel” while we argued, no—that gospel was intrinsically black.
The meeting ending at about 2am and four of us—GospoCentric founder Vicki Lataillade, noted manager Roger Holmes, Bill and I piled into a car to head to a soul food restaurant on the South side of Chicago.
On the way, a car pulled up beside us at a light with four anything-but-wholesome looking black youth and they looked at these two black girls with two white guys and it appeared they were going to say something when the light changed. As we pull off Bill leans out the window and we howled as he shouted, ‘Once you go black, you don’t go back.’
Rest in peace, Bill
I will surely miss you.