by Mandy Crow
As the home of the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Hall of Fame and renowned country radio station WSM, Nashville can easily be characterized as a country music city. Broadway, lined with country music honky tonks, restaurants emblazoned with the same names that top country music charts and shops selling cowboy boots and hats, does little to dispel the myth.
But a myth it is.
Or, at the very least, a massive over-generalization. In the recent study, Nashville Music Industry: Impact, Contribution and Cluster Analysis, authors Dr. Garrett Harper and Chris Cotton found that Nashville has ties to more genres of music than any other city in the world. The 2019 study, commissioned by the Nashville Chamber of Commerce and Music City Music Council, listed 24 genres among those with ties to the city, including Americana, gospel, rockabilly and contemporary Christian—and that list isn’t exhaustive.
But it isn’t just a diversity of musical genres that solidifies Nashville’s status as Music City, U.S.A. Nashville possesses a depth in the music industry that few other cities can boast. It’s quite possible to write, produce, record, release and promote a record without ever leaving the metro area. Harper and Cotton’s study found that “few cities in the world have such a high concentration of the full range of people in a total industry cluster”—meaning Nashville is home to more music industry talent than most cities, from producers and engineers to managers, record labels and more.
In fact, according to Dr. Richard Florida’s research, Los Angeles, New York City and Nashville are the top three locations for the recording industry, accounting for nearly 40 percent of the entire industry. In many ways, Nashville’s influence helps to both define and shape today’s global music industry.
Nashville’s musical roots run deep, stretching across genres and industry roles, yes, but also across generations and decades. And all along the way, Trevecca’s influence has been threaded throughout the industry, from producers and pioneers to songwriters and executives.
By the time Jim Foglesong came to Trevecca, he was already well-known in country music circles. Known on Music Row as Gentleman Jim—a nod to his gentle spirit and generosity—Foglesong helped to shape the careers of more than a few country greats, including the Oak Ridge Boys, Barbara Mandrell, George Strait and Garth Brooks. As a former president of Dot, ABC, Capitol and MCA Records, Foglesong was well respected and revered throughout the music industry.
In 1999, he turned his attention toward shaping the careers of students and became the director of Trevecca’s music business program.
“We put together an advisory group for the music business program and invited Jim,” recalls Dr. Sam Green, then the head of Trevecca’s music department. “He had retired from Capitol and was teaching adjunct at Vanderbilt. After I met him, I thought, What we need is someone just like you.”
Green proposed the idea to Foglesong over lunch, and Foglesong, who was already teaching music business as an adjunct professor at Vanderbilt University, was intrigued. He jumped at the chance to invest in the lives of students.
“I think in the later years of his life, Jim wanted to give back,” Green recalls. “Trevecca was a perfect fit for him. He was able to be a Christian at a Christian university and speak into the lives of students in some capacity.”
Foglesong’s career and reputation added credibility to Trevecca’s music business program and his connections within Nashville’s music industry opened doors for students, Green says. Foglesong, who was in his late 70s when he came to Trevecca, may have retired from an illustrious industry career, but he never acted like it, Green remembers.
“The strength of the program grew by leaps and bounds because of Jim’s reputation and the leadership he gave our music business program,” Green says.
In 2004, while a faculty member at Trevecca, Foglesong was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame alongside Kris Kristofferson. The University marked Foglesong’s achievement with celebratory billboards on Murfreesboro Road.
“Jim was so reputable, so well respected and a true leader in his industry,” Green says. “I loved Jim so deeply, and Trevecca loved Jim. He was a forward thinker. He knew the industry was changing, and he stayed current.”
It’s a hot summer morning when Jim Van Hook, now 78, strides into a Brentwood, Tenn., restaurant for this interview, looking more like the professor he intended to be than the music executive he became, the cuffs of his button-down shirt casually rolled up on his forearms.
“I’m as much of a business mind as I am a musician,” he says in a moment of reflection about his career. A 1963 graduate of Trevecca, Van Hook started Brentwood Music and went on to serve as the chairman and CEO of Provident Music Group and Word Entertainment. “My first love is putting it all together, orchestrating not just notes, but events, culture, business, support. That’s the real me.”
At one point in the early 2000s, Van Hook—who had retired from Provident—was simultaneously serving as the CEO of Word Entertainment and leading Belmont University’s Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business as its inaugural dean.
He remembers those days as some of the best of his career. “I had two full-time jobs, which I thrived on,” he says.
After graduating from Trevecca with a bachelor’s degree in Christian education and a minor in music, Van Hook enrolled at Peabody College, earning a master’s degree in music education. He started a doctorate and was ready to work on his dissertation but left early. “I guess I just wanted to get out and do the work rather than talk about it,” he reminisces. Van Hook had intended to spend his life teaching music—and did teach at Trevecca for six years—but left to lead the music program at Bethany First Church of the Nazarene in Bethany, Okla., then the largest Nazarene church in the country.
Van Hook was able to put into practice many of the skills he’d honed at Trevecca while creating and directing the Encounters. At Bethany, he was at the helm of a music ministry that involved more than 600 people: a 130-voice choir, 19 ensembles, an orchestra and even a weekly television show.
“It’s where I got interested in publishing,” Van Hook recalls. “I couldn’t find a lot of arrangements, the kinds of arrangements I wanted, so I hired them done because I couldn’t find them in print.”
Soon enough, that led Van Hook to the music industry, first as a senior vice president at Benson Company, then at the top of his own company, Brentwood Music, which he started in 1981 with $500. Building the business wasn’t easy, but for Van Hook, those were “Camelot years.” He and his staff dug in, worked hard, and the business grew. In 1994, he sold the company to Zomba Music Group, one of the largest and most successful independent music companies in history. Van Hook remained with the company he built, leading Zomba’s Christian music group, renamed Provident Music Group.
“That got me involved in the secular side of commercial music at a level that I never had done before,” Van Hook recalls about Zomba, which was based in London and New York City with a roster of artists that included Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. Eventually, Provident grew to include Benson Music and Reunion Records, bringing Michael W. Smith, Third Day and other top Christian artists into the fold.
When Provident sold to BMG in 2003, Van Hook retired, but that retirement lasted barely four months. Then came Belmont, followed closely with a stint at Word Entertainment as chairman and CEO, roles he held simultaneously for a while.
“I loved every bit of it. If someone asks me, ‘What was your favorite era of your career?’ I really don’t know. Every time I was in something, I thought that was life at its best,” Van Hook says as he reflects on his career. “It’s been a good journey. These are really happy days, driven in a large part by a great family. When you’ve been involved with music at the pace I was involved, you can lose some of your love for music … but my innocent love for music is coming back. I go to sleep every night listening to music.”
In 1987, Craig Adams was a senior in high school, attending NYC at the University of Maryland. An artist—Adams can’t remember who now—was supposed to close the conference by singing “Our God Is an Awesome God” with a mass choir of students but had to cancel.
Michael Johnson, now Trevecca’s director of alumni and church engagement, who was then serving on the NYI board, suggested Adams fill in.
“The very last night, the very last thing that happened was they gave me a chance to sing, and that was my introduction to the staff of Nazarene Youth International (NYI) and everything else spilled out of that,” Adams recalls.
It wasn’t the instant that started Adams’ career in the music industry, but it was one of many instances when Adams’ Trevecca connections shaped his trajectory.
“I feel not only a debt of gratitude to Trevecca and the Church of the Nazarene, but also to a lot of people in that community, like Jim Van Hook and Michael Johnson,” Adams says, seated at a table in the same restaurant where I interviewed Jim Van Hook a few days earlier. “My Trevecca story has not only provided a foundation [for my work] but continues to be a beautiful convergence of so many of those relationships and experiences.”
Adams, a 1991 Trevecca graduate with a degree in music business, currently serves as the creative director of LifeWay Worship, a role in which he oversees three streams of work: managing LifeWay’s exclusive songwriters and songs, leading the team producing ongoing content for LifeWayWorship.com, and overseeing all products related to choirs or church orchestras.
It’s a role that marries many of the skills Adams has developed throughout his career. After graduating in 1991 with a degree in music business, Adams traveled every weekend for nearly a decade with a family ministry. When he wasn’t on the road, he worked as a freelance producer and arranger.
Around 2000, Adams was ready to come off the road.
“My dad had been a songwriter at Benson with Jim Van Hook,” Adams recalls. “And Jim actually hired me to come work for him.” Adams became the creative director and staff producer for Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, where he remained for a little more than six years, all the while maintaining his freelance work through his production company, Open Score Productions.
But Adams sensed a restlessness. Something was beginning to change, and he wasn’t quite sure what it all meant. He and his wife, Deanna, began to pray, seeking God’s leadership.
“I was really happy with what I was doing,” Adams remembers. “I loved working with and for the people I was working with. But God was beginning to put a stirring in us.”
During a weekend men’s retreat with Whispering Hills Church of the Nazarene, Adams realized God was calling him to step away from his role at Brentwood-Benson.
“My immediate response was, ‘You’ve got to be kidding, God,’” Adams says. “Because in the time I’d been working with Brentwood-Benson, my wife and I had been blessed with our first child, Madelyn. Madelyn was born with some physiological difficulties related to undeveloped joints. It’s a rare syndrome called Russell Silver Syndrome. She really needed doctors, and I’d been freelance, so we’d never had coverage and health insurance like we had at Brentwood-Benson.”
At home, God had also been dealing with Deanna. She met Adams at the door and asked if they could talk. “Whatever God has told you,” Adams remembers his wife saying, “I’m OK, because He’s been talking to me this weekend, too.”
“I resigned the next morning with nothing to go to except God’s grace and mercy,” Adams remembers.
New clients reached out, filling Adams’ calendar with two years of production work. He produced an album celebrating Garfield the Cat, released only overseas. He arranged and produced 10 different Southern Gospel records and produced a number of Absolute Kids children’s albums for Word, projects Adams attributes completely to God.
But none of it—not his industry experiences nor the philosophy that has come to shape Adams’ work—would have been possible without Trevecca connections and Trevecca alumni who intersected his story at significant moments.
“Right after I graduated from Trevecca, the good folks at NYI, directed by Fred Fullerton in those days, kindly invited me to serve as the worship leader for NYC 1991 and NYC 1995,” Adams says. “Even that work, working those large events, has profoundly shaped a lot of what I’m doing today. It’s in those relationships and experiences that I have found my life’s work to have its greatest fruit: in ministry.”
As the summer fades to fall, Trevecca’s current students take the semester in stride. In classrooms across campus—from the Jackson Center for Music and Worship Arts to the Boone Business Building, students are honing the skills that will allow them to play a role in developing the Nashville sound.
And they’ll have plenty of Trevecca examples to follow—from Abner Ramirez of the duo JOHNNYSWIM, Wes Howard of the Gaither Vocal Band, guitarist Nick Huddleston, and more recent grads, like Madyson Williams and Sam Nichol, who are forging careers as artists on their own terms.
Foglesong, Van Hook AND Adams aren’t the only Trevecca alumni shaping the sound of Music City or influencing the larger music AND media industry.
Clark, who has deep ties to the University, has served as the creative director for Lillenas, one of the largest church music companies in the country and a division of the Nazarene Publishing House. He has penned songs recorded by artist such as Rascal Flatts, Glen Campbell, Sandi Patty, CeCe Winans and more. His most recent #1 is “I Know I’ll Be There” by Karen Peck and New River. Clark has produced two Grammy®-Award-winning albums and was the recipient of ASCAP’s Living Legacy Award in 2009.
DeGarmo, who completed his undergraduate degree at Trevecca in 2017, had already forged a career as a Christian artist, songwriter, producer and business executive before finding his way to the Hill. One-half of the Christian duo DeGarmo and Key, DeGarmo helped to pave the way for today’s Christian musicians and co-founded ForeFront Records. Now retired, he continues to share his industry knowledge and experience with Trevecca students.
Grace spent the second semester of her freshman year at Trevecca. Discovered by TobyMac after posting a video on YouTube, Grace went on to record a number of albums. Her debut EP, Hold Me, garnered Grammy and Dove Award nominations, with Grace being named 2012 New Artist of the Year at the Dove Awards. Grace has recorded three albums and two EPs to date. Married in 2018, she and her husband, Aaron Collins, welcomed their first child earlier this summer.
A member of the Gaither Vocal Band, Hampton spent two years studying at Trevecca and met his wife, Andrea, on campus. Hampton served as a worship minister before joining the Gaither Vocal Band in July 2005 as the group’s tenor. The Gaither Vocal Band won a Grammy Award in 2009 for the album Lovin’ Life, and has received Grammy nominations for three other albums as well as numerous Gospel Music Association honors and Dove Awards. Hampton’s first solo album, A Man Like Me, was nominated for a Dove Award. He’s also the author of two cookbooks.
Keafer, who graduated in 2016 with a degree in business administration, is the Nashville city director for Sofar Sounds. The company creates intimate pop-up concerts in unexpected places with secret line-ups. Keafer curates line-ups, booking venues, planning partnerships and organizing teams to put on 7-10 shows each month. He’s engaged to Tori, with plans for a wedding this month.
A 1975 Trevecca graduate, Landis currently serves as the chairman and co-founder of Ribbow Media Group. Previously, Landis served as the president of Word Records. At Ribbow, Landis has played a role in promoting a number of top Christian movies such as War Room, I Can Only Imagine and more.
McLean, who graduated from Trevecca in 2019 with her doctorate, is a prolific songwriter and indie artist. She is a member of Trevecca’s faculty, teaching songwriting. With more than 400 songs recorded , McLean has also garnered a Dove Award for Gospel Song of the Year, numerous ASCAP and NSAI awards as well as Grammy and Juno nominations.
Philip and Michelle Noel
Both 2014 graduates, Philip and Michelle met at Trevecca and toured together in Awaken, a University singing group. The couple married in 2015. Philip, a commercial music major, has toured with country artists Seth Ennis and Carly Pearce, while Michelle, a classical voice major, serves as the worship leader at Grace Church of the Nazarene in Columbia, Tenn.
A 2015 graduate, Shingleton currently serves as the marketing coordinator for Essential Worship, the record label for bands like Elevation Worship and Vertical Church Band as well as a worship song resource for the local church. In addition, Shingleton is a singer and songwriter in her own right.
A 2017 graduate, Staley serves as a copyright administrator at Capitol Christian Music Group Publishing, a company with Chris Tomlin, Hillsong and TobyMac on the roster. Staley helps to ensure that songwriters are paid for their work. As a student, Staley interned at Capitol and was hired full-time before she graduated. Staley and her husband, Ryan, live in the Nashville area.
Thiessen, who studied music business at Trevecca and graduated in 2017, works for the Rabbit Room. The nonprofit seeks to foster Christ-centered community and spiritual formation through music, story and art. Thiessen serves as the head of sales and donor administration, a role that includes music curation, event coordination and more. He also works as a freelance music journalist for online publications such as Consequence of Sound, DJBooth, Entertainment Weekly, Bandcamp and more. Thiessen is married to Annaleigh Thiessen (’18). The couple is expecting their first child.
Vann graduated in 1995 with a major in Christian education and a minor in music, but had already started singing and songwriting professionally in 1993, including a short stint as a recording artist with Warner Alliance as well as performing at Opryland USA and on the General Jackson Showboat. Most recently, Vann sang with The Las Vegas Tenors in Las Vegas. He recently moved back to Nashville and has plans to perform in a big band holiday show at Paris Disney and is also working on a new live solo show.