Donna Hilley, the Birmingham, Alabama native, joined radio station WKDA, run by the late Jack Stapp, who also founded Tree International. Eight years with WKDA were followed by eight years as assistant to the president of a Nashville advertising and public relations firm. Hilley then rejoined Jack Stapp by going to work at his fledgling Tree organization.

Named executive vice president and chief operating officer of Tree International in 1978, Hilley became president and chief executive officer in 1994. Hilley has been personally responsible for taking Tree far beyond the boundaries of country music. Under her direction, the publishing company has branched into film and television industries, as well as advertising and Broadway musicals. She was the first major publisher to conceive of the idea to merge contemporary Christian music with the country music industry, foreseeing the increasing popularity of contemporary Christian music in the 90's.

Hilley has also established herself as a leader in both the business and music communities. In 1994 she was named to the prestigious American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) board. In the same year, she was elected to the National Music Publisher's Association (NMPA) board. She has served on the board of directors for the Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt; the Country Music Association; the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce; the Gospel Music Association, and the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences among others.

In 1992 Entertainment Weekly magazine ranked Hilley #4 in its "Ten Most Powerful People in Country Music" and in 1994 she was noted as one of the "Women We Admire" by Mirabella magazine. She was named "Woman of the Year" by the Business and Professional Women's Club in 1978, and in 1984 she was honored as "Lady Executive of the Year" by the National Women's Executives. 1999 Alabama Music Hall of Fame inductee, John Herbert Orr Pioneer Award.

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame



David M Ross • January 14, 2009


Donna Hilley

Belmont University’s Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business will honor Donna Hilley with its Robert E. Mulloy Award of Excellence for accomplishments in the entertainment industry, as well as service to Belmont and the Nashville community. The award presentation will take place at the 2009 Best of the Best Showcase at Belmont’s Curb Event Center, April 25 at 7 PM. Hilley, the longtime head of Sony/ATV publishing, will be the first recipient of the award established last spring in memory of Bob Mulloy, founder of Belmont’s music business program.

Hilley, an Alabama native, came to Nashville with little knowledge of the music industry and became one of the city’s top female executives, eventually being named president and CEO of Sony/ATV Nashville. Much loved in the community, she served on boards at ASCAP, Belmont University, Vanderbilt’s Children’s Hospital, and the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, just to name a few.

In rightful tribute, Belmont has also established the Donna Hilley Endowed Scholarship in Leadership for students. For information about the scholarship, e-mail Harry Chapman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , or donate online at



Donna Hilley has announced her retirement from Sony/ATV Music Publishing, after 31 years with the Nashville company. As president and chief executive officer of Sony/ATV, Hilley is considered one of the most distinguished women in the country music business. Publishing veteran Troy Tomlinson, who joined Sony/ATV in 2002 after the company purchased Acuff-Rose Music, will assume the top position Jan. 1, 2006.


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