Country music began to rise to national prominence soon after BMI opened its doors in 1939. A number of publishers who recognized the genre’s potential were affiliated with BMI, like Hill and Range and Acuff-Rose, the latter co-founded by country music legend Roy Acuff. They recognized the importance of songwriting and quickly took advantage of the interest by artists outside their own field to have material “covered,” thereby increasing the benefits to writers for their work. Hank Williams, one of the most important creators in this field and one of the most-performed songwriters of the 20th century, created some of the most indelible songs in the national imagination, like “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” “Hey Good Lookin’” and “Cold, Cold Heart.”
BMI recognized too that the emerging center of country music—Nashville—was to become one of the hubs of the music industry. An office was started there in 1958, and permanent facilities were constructed for BMI on Music Row in 1964 just in time for the emergence of some of “Music City U.S.A.’s” most legendary writers. That list includes writers like Willie Nelson, who before he became a star in his own right, created hits like “Crazy” for Patsy Cline and “Hello Walls” for Ray Price, and the late Harlan Howard, who penned a string of songs over more than five decades that many of country’s major stars recorded, including “I Fall to Pieces” and “Heartaches by the Number.” From that day on, BMI has assisted in the careers of many of country’s creative legends and recognized that this genre was no flash in the pan, but instead, an indisputable piece of America’s musical fabric. The fact that 87% of the members of the Country Music Hall of Fame are BMI songwriters attests to that fact.
BMI’s list of songwriters and composers also includes such country giants as Hank Williams Jr., Loretta Lynn, Felice & Boudleaux Bryant, Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson, Maybelle Carter, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Conway Twitty, Merle Haggard, the Stanley Brothers, Bob Wills, Bill Anderson, Doc Watson, Jimmy Martin, Mac Wiseman, Jim & Jesse McReynolds, Buck Owens, Faith Hill, Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, Alabama, Shania Twain, Vince Gill, Charlie Daniels, Don Gibson, Curly Putman, Bill Monroe, Brooks & Dunn, John Michael Montgomery and Alison Krauss.
Founded in l939 as a non-profit-making organization, BMI opened the door to performing rights representation for songwriters and composers of all types of music, many of whom were not eligible under the membership guidelines of the older American PROs. BMI offered first-time representation to songwriters of blues, jazz, r&b, gospel, folk, country and Spanish-language music, and as several of these musical trends converged to produce a new music called “rock & roll,” BMI became the preeminent performing right organization for songwriters of this new genre. The company quickly made reciprocal agreements with sister societies around the world.
The success of BMI’s songwriters and composers is unequaled, as evidenced by their dominance of the industry’s most prestigious awards and honors over the years, representing 51% of the Grammy Awards, 67% of the Country Music Association Awards, 69% of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees, 87% of the R&B Foundation’s Pioneer Awards and 95% of the Blues Music Awards.