Billy Ray Hearn 1929-2015

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Wednesday 22nd April 2015

Veteran record executive Billy Ray Hearn dies in Nashville

THE MUSIC industry executive described as a "Christian music pioneer," Billy Ray Hearn died on 15th April in Nashville, Tennessee, aged 85. Born on 26th April 1929, Hearn was reared in an active Southern Baptist family and went into various music ministries after two stints in the US Navy. A talented composer and choir arranger, he was involved in a number of church youth choir musicals of the 1960s and was recruited to work with Word Records of Waco, Texas. With the advent of the Jesus Movement of the late '60s, Word's founder Jarrell McCracken asked Hearn to develop a youth-orientated label, Myrrh Records, to reflect the emerging rock and pop of the new era. Hearn and Myrrh signed such acts as Randy Matthews, Crimson Bridge, 2nd Chapter Of Acts, Petra and Barry McGuire.

He was the director of music promotion and music publishing for Word until 1976 when he founded Sparrow Records, the world's largest Christian record label, which is now led by his son Bill. The first signings to Sparrow were John Michael and Terry Talbot followed by Janny Grine, the Agapeland children's ministry and Keith Green. After Hearn bought out his remaining partners and became sole owner of Sparrow in 1981, the label signed a bevy of contemporary acts such as Steve Camp, White Heart, Sheila Walsh, Carman, Steve Taylor, Tramaine Hawkins, Steven Curtis Chapman and BeBe and CeCe Winans. In 1988 Billy with choir arranger Tom Fetke and the London Philharmonic Orchestra produced a series of best-selling albums of hymnody, 'The Majesty And Glory'.

In 1992 Hearn sold Sparrow - then second only to Word in total Christian music sales - to international conglomerate EMI Music and EMI Christian Music Group was formed. The first chairman and CEO of EMI CMG was Billy. The label would eventually grow to issue albums by such acts as Avalon, Andy Griffith, Delirious?, Jump5, the Newsboys and ZOEgirl. Hearn was elected to the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1997 and in 1999 both Hearn and Sparrow were awarded Lifetime Achievement Awards by the Gospel Music Association (GMA). In 2001 Billy turned over the day-to-day operations of Sparrow (today called Capitol Christian Music Group) to his son Bill.

About his father Bill said, "He was the first true label A&R (artist and repertoire) guy who started the very first professional Christian record company, Myrrh, in 1971. He was a giant of a person; he had so much impact and influence on people in his life and his work. His legacy is going to continue to inspire people for years and years to come." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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