June 30, 1940 - June 20, 2012
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.