In one of the most surprising defections in modern country music history, Kenny Chesney is leaving Sony Music, his label home for nearly the entirety of his career, to sign with Warner Music Nashville, sources confirmed to Variety. Tuesday night. The official announcement of the signing was made on Wednesday morning.
The move is a feather in the cap for Warner Nashville chairman John Esposito, who, despite building up an impressive roster of new talent during his tenure, has had to preside over a one-superstar roster — that giant being Blake Shelton — until now. It is also a coup for new Warner CEO of Recorded Music Max Lousada, who officially took on that role in October.
“It is a big deal to change labels,” Chesney said in a statement. “But when you hear Max, Espo, and Cris Lacy talk about music, about what it means and does, when you hear that passion, you can’t help but get fired up. To me, music is only complete when it gets to the fans and becomes part of their lives. The people at Warner understand my commitment to that idea, and they’re just as committed to those ideals as I am.”
“Kenny Chesney embodies the relentless pursuit of artistic freedom and expression,” said WMN Chairman & CEO John Esposito. “An unapologetic free spirit, he has built a career on perseverance, drive, innovation, and most especially, great songs. Everything he does is inspired. It is with deep respect and honor that we welcome Kenny to Warner Music Nashville. We couldn’t be more excited to work with him and his team.”
Meanwhile, the transition leaves Sony Nashville with Miranda Lambert and Brad Paisley as the sole remaining arena headliners left over from the regime before chairman Randy Goodman took over; the label group recently lost Carrie Underwood to Universal Nashville. Sony, too, has had a focused renewal on new talent under Goodman, recently breaking Maren Morris, LANco, and Kane Brown, though he hasn’t ignored more veteran names, recently signing Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.
Whatever reasons Chesney might have had for making the move, it’s not for Sony’s radio promotion team not still being able to boost him to the top of the charts. Just three months ago, he had his 28th No 1 single at country radio with “All the Pretty Girls,” a run that dates back to his first No. 1 in 1995. Since then, he has become country music’s only true long-term stadium act, rivaled only by Garth Brooks as a consistent draw over a period of decades.