CMA honors MTSU alumnus Jim Free with J. William D...

CMA honors MTSU alumnus Jim Free with J. William Denny Award

Jim Free, Middle Tennessee State University alumnus, was recently honored by the Country Music Association with the J. William Denny Award for his contributions to the CMA Board of Directors. (Photo courtesy of Country Music Association)

Jim Free, Middle Tennessee State University alumnus with degrees in political science and public administration, recently received the J. William Denny Award from the Country Music Association

The award recognizes and appreciates a lifetime of dedication, distinguished service and meritorious contributions to the CMA Board of Directors, stated a CMA press release. Free accepted the honor during CMA’s Board of Directors meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 29, in Nashville. 

“It was a complete surprise,” Free said about when they announced the award. “I fell out of my chair almost.” 

Free, originally from Columbia, Tennessee, said MTSU facilitated the opportunity that helped launch his career as a successful policymaker at the state level and all the way to the White House. 

“Education opportunities at MTSU are as good as any other university anywhere,” he said. “The giants who headed up the political science department at that time were just terrific. Dr. (David) Grubbs talked me into doing an internship … with the state legislature … which (snowballed) into meeting Jimmy Carter and helping run his campaign. It all started with that internship.”

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Free also credited MTSU for his involvement in the music industry since he met his industry connections while attending his alma mater, which led to him getting backstage during Grand Ole Opry shows and eventually his work with the CMA. 

Added the CMA release: Free has been an influential advocate and key voice in policy for the music and entertainment industry for more than three decades. Throughout his time on the CMA Board, Free has made lasting and impactful contributions to the overall success and expansion of country music worldwide, including introducing documentary filmmakers Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan to the board, where they laid out their plans for their documentary film series that helped promote country music to a new audience and garner recognition in American culture. 

Free also spoke about MTSU being an “economic powerhouse” for the region. 

“Not only does it provide high school kids with a great big, thriving university to get their college education at, but it’s a part of the music industry, part of the aviation industry,” he said. “The tentacles from MTSU go far beyond Murfreesboro for sure. It’s a part of the economic engine of Middle Tennessee.”

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