Columbia Native Recieves CMA Award

By RICHARD CONN.  NASHVILLE, TN - ​While he now heads an influential lobbying firm in Washington D. C., Columbia native Jim Free said being a board member of the Country Music Association helps "keep my roots".


Getting involved in the country music industry was always a natural fit for Free.


Always a fan of the genre, Free said he began making connections in the business while serving as an administrative assistant to Ned McWherter when he was the speaker of the state House of Representatives.


Those assications grew stronger when he served as regional coordinator for Jimmy Carter's 1976 presidential campaign.  After Carter was elected, Free was named special assistant to the president for Congressional Affairs.


Free said while working for the Carter White House he also essentially became the former president's "liasion" to the country music industry.


In 1989, Free's legislative experience in Washington made him a prime choice to serve on the Country Music Association's board of directors.


"Serving on the CMA Board is one of the great pleasures of my life, and it keeps me inolved with this wonderful art form, country music, which I love," Free said.


Those feelings were reciprocated at a recent CMA board meeting when the organization's Chairman Steve Buchanan and immediate past-chairman and current CMA Chief Executive Officer Steve Moore presented Free with the CMA Chairman's Award, which is given annually at the discretion of the chairman of the board.


Moore praised Free's passion for country music and for advocating on behalf of the format in Washington.  He said Free was instrumental in putting together the CMA's Board meetings held during March in Washington, where Free helped bring together several lawmakers to discuss issues important to the music industry.  


"The opportunity to work with Jim Free earlier this year on our Board meeting in Washington was one of the most enjoyable and enlightening experiences that I have enjoyed since I have been on the Board," Moore said in a press release.  "Having Jim represent the CMA Board in Washington, D.C. is a tremendous asset for us and I am honored to present him with this well deserved award."


In 1995, Free co-founded the business governmental affairs firm Smith-Free Group, which represent several high-profile clients in the industry.


The Central High School graduate left Columbia in 1965 to attend Middle Tennessee State University.


Whe he lives and works in Washington, Columbia's never far from Free's mind.


"I was just back there for my 45th high school reunion," he said.


Originally published in the Columbia Daily Herald, October 31, 2010.