Almost as quickly as he was appointed, conservative radio host Mike Huckabee has resigned from the board of the CMA Foundation, an educational arm of the Country Music Association. “The CMA Foundation has accepted former Governor Mike Huckabee’s resignation from its Board of Directors, effective immediately,” the CMA said in a statement late Thursday afternoon, just a day after revealing that Huckabee had joined the board, an announcement that immediately set off a firestorm in the country music community.
The CMA had obviously seen Huckabee’s appointment as apolitical, since the former Arkansas governor had long been a champion of putting the arts in schools, which is the CMA Foundation’s mission. But hardly everyone thought it was possible to view Huckabee’s philanthropic efforts as separate from his hardline politics. “Basically, every gay man in town is furious,” said one artist manager, before the resignation was announced — and the chatter around Nashville made it clear that many of the straight men and women heading the town’s biggest label groups and management firms were every bit as angry.
The writing appeared to be on the wall for Huckabee’s day-long tenure after one of the most influential managers in Nashville, Jason Owen, wrote a letter to the CMA announcing that his artists would no longer work on Foundation efforts. Owen even suggested that cooperation with the entire CMA was in question. Owen’s clients include Little Big Town, whose Karen Fairchild sits on the Foundation board, and was seen as likely to resign if Owen intended to carry out his words. Owen also represents Kacey Musgraves, whose gay-friendly “Follow Your Arrow” politics might be seen as not exactly aligning with Huckabee’s.
Owen’s letter to the CMAs’ CEO, Sarah Trahern, and director of community outreach, Tiffany Kerns, read: “It is with a heavy heart that I must let you know moving forward, Sandbox [his management firm] and Monument [Sandbox’s Sony-distributed label] will no longer support the CMA Foundation in any way (this includes everyone we represent collectively) considering the heartbreaking news shared today regarding Mike Huckabee appointee/elected to the CMA Foundation. Further, we find it hard to support the organization as a whole as a result. As you may know I have a child and two on the way. This man has made it clear that my family is not welcome in his America. And the CMA has opened their arms to him, making him feel welcome and relevant. Huckabee speaks of the sort of things that would suggest my family is morally beneath his and uses language that has a profoundly negative impact upon young people all across this country. Not to mention how harmful and damaging his deep involvement with the NRA is. What a shameful choice.”
“I will not participate in any organization that elevates people like this to positions that amplify their sick voices,” Owen’s letter continued. “This was a detrimentally poor choice by the CMA and its leaders. I only wish the best for you and I know how hard you work for the foundation but a grossly offensive decision like this only makes your job harder and diminishes the foundation’s purpose.”
Steve Schnur, a former CMA board member, said the town’s phones were lit up all night and into this morning after Wednesday’s announcement. “I got calls in shock from multiple CMA members, asking if I knew about it, some threatening to leave,” says Schnur, who is the worldwide executive of music for EA, the blockbuster video game producer that has moved most of its efforts to Nashville, and who sits on the Recording Academy’s Nashville board. “I’ve had numerous conversations since the second I woke up with chairmen of labels and major managers, all collectively agreeing that this move, which fortunately now has been resolved, really would have put Nashville back 20 years. I hear it wasn’t properly vetted. Would the next move to have been to put somebody from the NRA on? We don’t need to live under those clichés anymore, and I’m very happy that there are people like Jason, (manager) Clarence Spalding, (UMG Nashville chief) Mike Dungan, and others that won’t stand for this stuff. This isn’t about Republican/Democrat. We have to set an example to the people around the world who put Nashville on a pedestal, and the example can’t be a lack of tolerance.”
Another music industry VIP with close ties to the CMA, who did not want to be identified, explained that in many ways, Huckabee’s appointment made sense, since he has a history of reaching across the aisle to further arts education in schools. “We are trying to support these programs in Tennessee, and he is a man who has been in the trenches and understands what it takes to get people of different backgrounds to get together and achieve a cause. My hope was that his experience would prove fruitful as we try to improve music in the schools.”
But, added this same source, “I couldn’t help but see him standing with his arms locked in the air with that Kim Davis woman in Kentucky [the clerk who refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses in 2015]. That is not a favorable memory in my mind.”
Among those pleased by Huckabee’s swift exit is Shane McAnally, the producer of Midland’s and Old Dominion’s recent breakthroughs and co-writer of hits like Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road.” In a statement to Variety, McAnally said, “I am glad to hear that Mike Huckabee resigned from the CMA Foundation Board and I hope that this will prevent any further distractions from the work that the CMA Foundation does in our community. As a member of the CMA Board, I was disheartened to learn that Huckabee was appointed to the position because his beliefs have not been representative of our country music community as a whole, which is made up of dynamic and forward-thinking creatives. The CMA is an organization that acts as an ambassador for our industry, so it is incredibly important that we are diligent in spreading a message that embraces diversity and love. I hope that the CMA will continue to be governed by progressive and empathetic individuals in the future.”