The Country Music Association (CMA) is one of Tennessee’s most important musical trade associations. The CMA is dedicated to guiding and enhancing country music’s development and demonstrating its viability to advertisers, consumers, and media throughout the world. During the late 1950s, as country music record sales faced a serious challenge from rock-n-roll, country music performers, disc jockeys, and songwriters joined music publishing, recording, management, talent booking, and broadcasting executives to promote country music and increase its radio and TV exposure. In mid-1958, the older Country Music Disc Jockeys Association disbanded and the broader-based CMA was organized in Nashville that fall. Nashville music publisher Wesley Rose became CMA’s founding board chairman. Harry Stone, formerly manager of the Nashville radio and TV station WSM, served briefly as executive director, but he was succeeded by Orlinda native Jo Walker-Meador. Nashvillian Ed Benson took over this post in 1991 when Walker-Meador retired.
After a 1961 CMA-sponsored survey found only eighty-one full-time country stations, the association focused on persuading public officials to proclaim an annual Country Music Month and sponsored special package shows in cities across the nation. Exploiting a national trend toward radio market specialization, the CMA commissioned demographic research, developed sales kits for country broadcasters, and made special sales presentations to conventions of broadcasters and advertisers in an effort to prove country music’s effectiveness and potential as an advertising tool. As a result, more than six hundred full-time country stations were broadcasting by decade’s end, and country music had increased its television exposure as well.
In 1961, the CMA established the Country Music Hall of Fame to recognize the achievements of country artists and executives. Initially, the Tennessee State Museum displayed the Hall of Fame plaques at the War Memorial Building in Nashville. In 1967, following an extensive fund drive, the CMA created a permanent display with the opening of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The CMA held its first awards show in Nashville that same year, and in 1968 the program was televised nationally.
Thanks in part to the CMA, country music now claims over two thousand full-time stations in North America while CMA membership exceeds six thousand individuals and includes companies from forty-three nations. Using ever more sophisticated demographic analysis, the CMA works to keep country music strong in today’s competitive markets. CMA-supported seminars for songwriters, broadcasters, and talent buyers attract thousands every year, and the CMA plays a key role in the Country Music Week and the CMA Music Festival, which was formerly known as Fan Fair, held each summer. Established in Nashville in 1972, the CMA Music Festival has become the city’s major country music industry event. Close Up, the CMA’s monthly magazine, keeps readers informed about artistic and commercial developments affecting the country industry. As in the past, the CMA monitors important legal issues and publicizes country music, thus ensuring the organization’s longstanding reputation as an aggressive and effective association.