Jan 23, 2023 - Business

Cindy Mabe makes country music history

Keith Urban and Cindy Mabe

Cindy Mabe with Keith Urban in 2019. Photo: John Shearer/Getty Images for Billboard

Cindy Mabe will become chairperson and CEO of Universal Music Group Nashville on April 1, making her the first woman to lead a major country music record label.

Why it matters: Mabe was already one of Music Row's most consequential executives, having shepherded the careers of future stars Chris Stapleton, Eric Church and Kacey Musgraves.

  • She replaces her mentor UMG Nashville CEO Mike Dungan, who is retiring.

Context: As the music industry consolidated, the country genre was left with three major record labels: Universal, Sony and Warner.

Of note: Although gender equality in country music remains a pervasive problem for artists and executives alike, the genre also has a proud history of women in leadership.

  • Frances Preston was country music's ultimate powerbroker for decades, including her run from 1986 until 2004 as president and CEO of the performance rights organization BMI.
  • Jo Walker-Meador served for 29 years at the helm of the Country Music Association. During her tenure, the CMA launched the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the CMA Awards and CMA Fest. Preston and Walker-Meador are enshrined in the hall of fame.
  • Donna Hilley rose the music publishing ranks from secretary to CEO of Sony/ATV.
  • The current CEO of the CMA is Sara Trahern, who's held the top job since 2014.

Zoom in: Mabe is tremendously respected within country music. She's known for passionately backing her artists and having an ear for fresh talent.

What she's saying: "Country music has been my life's passion," Mabe says. "It's my childhood and my future. It's the heartbeat that speaks truth to all walks of life in the best and worst of times.

  • "It's truly a gift to get to honor, protect and build the next era of country music history with [UMG Nashville]."

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