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Remembering Jerry Bradley, The Music Executive Who Brought Country Music Into The Modern Era

Country Music Hall of Famer Jerry Bradley Dead at 83
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On July 17, 2023, Nashville music executive and Country Music Hall of Famer Jerry Bradley died at his home in Mount Juliet, Tennessee. Senior director of media relations for BMI Nashville, Elice Cuff-Campbell, has announced his death but did not provide a cause. He was 83.

Kyle Young, Chief Executive Officer of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, turned to Twitter to mourn Bradley’s death. He credited the music executive for helping country music gain “newfound respect and commercial clout.” He also credited him for nurturing acts like Dolly Parton, Roy Clark, and Alabama and expanding the genre’s reach.

With that in mind, let’s look back at Bradley’s four decades of success in the record and publishing industries.

He Was Born Into Country Music

Born in Nashville, Tennessee, on January 30, 1940, Jerry Bradley was the son of Owen Bradley – a famed producer and musician known for helping create and shape the Nashville Sound during the 1950s and 1960s.

Bradley kicked off his career under the shadow of his father and his uncle, studio musician Harold Bradley in the family’s music publishing company, Forrest Hills Music. Bradley helped record some of the biggest names in the genre at their Bradley Barn recording studio just outside of Nashville. It included country icons Loretta Lyn, Joan Baez, and Webb Pierce, among others. 

At the same time, Bradley worked closely with world-class musician, songwriter, and producer Chet Atkins, who was also RCA Nashville’s top executive. Eventually, Bradley persevered to carve a name for himself in the music industry. So, he officially joined RCA as Atkin’s assistant and later as a staff producer in 1970.

In 1973, Atkins was diagnosed with cancer and stepped away from RCA. Bradley then replaced him as the label’s head.

He Helped Shape Country Music’s Fabric

Under Jerry Bradley’s leadership, RCA Nashville achieved major successes – it even broke through to rock and pop mainstream. He signed and creatively guided country hitmakers with crossover appeal, including the likes of Alabama and Ronnie Milsap. Bradley also led the recordings of legendary country legend Dolly Parton into success, enabling her Hall of Fame career.

Bradley then made history when he worked with Charley Pride, who became one of the first Black country superstars.

Arguably, one of his biggest accomplishments was spearheading the influential 1976 compilation album Wanted! The Outlaws, which included music from Tompall Glaser, Jessi Colter, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings. It then became the first platinum-selling country album certified by the RIAA, helping legitimize outlaw country as a musical movement and subgenre.

In 1983, Bradley left RCA Nashville and moved into Opryland Music Group, which owned all the Acuff-Rose publishing catalogs. In addition to managing a back catalog teeming with hits, Bradley added a range of new talent to the company’s roster – including Kenny Chesney, who remembered Bradley’s “profound and unmeasurable impact” on his life.

“Jerry’s impact on our creative community will be felt for years,” Chesney said.

Truly, Bradley’s contribution to the music industry is beyond comparison. In 2003, Bradley retired from the music business. “I never lost the fact that it was fun,” Bradley noted. “I had fun.” Nearly two decades later, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. 

On September 10, a Celebration of Life will be held at one of Bradley’s most favorite places, the Cedar Creek Yacht Club – where he was a member for sixty years. In place of flowers, Bradley’s family is asking for donations to Music Health Alliance.

Without a doubt, Jerry Bradley will never be forgotten.

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