Beverly Keel steered MTSU media college into some high-profile entertainment events | News

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Beverly Keel knows that the music industry is all about relationships.

Keel, the dean of the College of Media and Entertainment at Middle Tennessee State University, an award-winning journalist and music industry supporter, helped to land one of Wynonna Judd’s final concerts for the university’s Murphy Center on Nov. 3.

Because of the significance of that event, the success and impact of other real-world programs the media college offers and Keel’s involvement with many non-profit organizations, she has been selected the Murfreesboro Post 2022 Rutherford County Person of the Year by the newspaper’s editors.

For the Wynonna concert, Leslie Fram, Keel’s friend and a senior vice president at Country Music Television, reached out to her about using the MTSU arena as a concert venue. Keel immediately looped the necessary parties into the conversation, and the concert’s Murfreesboro date was organized in less than a month.

“I always start everything with a yes, so, yes, I want to try to make this happen,” Keel said of the concert.

Keel, a 1988 MTSU graduate and an MTSU faculty members since 2013, said it was thrilling to watch her nearly 50 students gaining real-world experience and putting their skills to the test as they worked at the event.

Under Keel’s guidance as dean of the music college this year, the Digital Literacy Camp was started by MTSU School of Journalism and Strategic Media faculty members Jennifer Woodard and Ken Blake. They wanted to help the tweens and teens using TikTok better understand the power of digital media.

Using funds from a Tennessee Board of Regents grant, the two instructors teamed up with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Rutherford County this past summer to bring 40 middle school students to campus to learn about responsible social media usage and digital literacy.

The students wrote, filmed, edited, and showed their own documentaries, and had activities involving podcasts, drone filming and social media safety.

“It is so fun and so wonderful,” Keel said of the camp. “It secretly accomplishes several things. It allows the students to learn technology, such as social media, podcasting and our recording studio, those sorts of things, and it gives them an avenue for self-expression.”

This year’s Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival also was an important one for Keel and the music college. A team of about 25 recording industry, media arts and journalism students helped to produce content at this year’s music festival.

Media Arts and Recording Industry students were scheduled to assist with only two concerts for Bonnaroo’s Other Stage for Hulu, one of the world’s largest streaming services. But Bonnaroo and Hulu executives were so impressed by the students’ work that they increased it to 11 concerts.

The partnership between MTSU and Bonnaroo started in 2014, returning this year after a 2020 pandemic pause and a 2021 weather cancellation.

Some national recognition

This year MTSU’s Department of Recording Industry — and the College of Media and Entertainment that houses it— marked its seventh consecutive year on Billboard magazine’s international list of top music business schools. The department received again earned acclaim for the program’s diversity, depth and longevity.

The magazine also mentioned the on-campus music venue and the student-run record label as entertainment jewels of the college.

MTSU has been on Billboard’s best music business schools lists since 2013, receiving recognition that first year for the recording industry program’s entrepreneurial turn. MTSU appears on the 2022 list alongside long-recognized programs at Berklee College of Music in Boston, New York University and UCLA.

Keel serves on the Academy of Country Music board as chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Taskforce. She has been a member of the Country Music Association board, on the Grand Ole Opry’s Diversity and Inclusion Taskforce and as secretary of the Recording Academy board, which is the Grammy organization.

A graduate of Leadership Middle Tennessee she also serves on the boards of YWCA and Nashville’s W.O. Smith Music School, which makes music instruction available to low-income families.

Last summer, Keel received the Cornerstone Award from Nashville Women in Film & Television.

“Our College of Media and Entertainment is extremely blessed to have Beverly as its dean for too many reasons to even list,” MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee said in a statement. “An immensely accomplished alumna who brings a deep well of knowledge, experience and insight about the music and entertainment industry to her alma mater, Beverly has also become a national voice as a passionate advocate for equity and equality within the music industry.

“It’s such leadership that opens the many partnership doors that provide students in the college with real-world opportunities within the industry, attracts top faculty and guest lecturers to our campus, and continues to position our college and its programs as among the most attractive in the nation and world. Thanks to Beverly’s leadership, MTSU graduates from the College of Media Entertainment go on to highly successful careers as professionals throughout the industry.”

Keel will tell you she’s a non-traditional academic dean. She called McPhee “a true visionary” and “wonderfully supportive.”

“He understands the importance of taking students to high-profile events,” Keel said. “He understands the importance of having MTSU host a Wynonna Judd concert and TV taping.”

Keel said she has had a shift in her priorities during the past decade.

Until she was about 40, she said, she was very career focused. Her priorities were getting good interviews, writing great stories and coming up with publicity campaigns to launch albums.

“As you get older, the focus shifts from what I can do for me to what I can do for you,” said Keel who lives on a farm in Woodbury with her pony and her dog. “So, you’re looking at your legacy and how can I leave the world a better place than I found it?”

In 2014, she founded Change the Conversation with friends and fellow country music industry insiders Fram and Tracy Gershon.

“We were just talking, and everybody was complaining that women were not getting airplay on country radio,” Keel said. “They weren’t getting signed to record deals.”

So, Keel, Gershon and Fram gathered together about 40 industry leaders at Keel’s house in January 2015 and received resounding support for their cause.

Change the Conversation raises awareness of gender disparity in country music, prepares research to document those inequities and has provided support for female singer/songwriters.

“I speak for women who are not in positions of power to speak,” Keel said.

In 2020, after the death of George Floyd, Keel co-founded Nashville Music Equality, an organization that works to create an anti-racist environment in the Nashville music industry. She was recently named a national “Change Agent” by Billboard for her efforts with Nashville Music Equality.

In the area of racial discrimination, Keel said she is still very much learning. One thing she said she has learned is that it’s important for white people to speak out against racism.

“Those are some of the most fulfilling things that I’ve done because at this stage of my career, I want to give my students the best education possible and help their dreams come true and make the world a better place,” she said. “Once you know these problems exist like sexism and racism, you know, I can’t turn my back on them.”

Keel’s expertise is in two areas: journalism and the music business. She combined the two as her career progressed.

She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications from MTSU in 1988 and started in print journalism at the Nashville Banner. She has a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. In 1990, when the Garth Brooks-led country music boom happened, Keel began covering the music industry from a business perspective.

“I was fortunate enough to be at the right place at the right time when country music was exploding and there was national interest in it,” Keel said.

In 1995, she became a full-time instructor at MTSU, while resuming a career in journalism on the side. She was the Nashville correspondent for People magazine for 10 years and wrote a celebrity column for The Tennessean for two years.

She displayed her writing skills again in October, writing essays for Billboard and The Tennessean about Loretta Lynn after the Country Music Hall of Famer’s death.

Keel took a leave of absence in 2010 to serve as senior vice president of artist and media relations at Universal Music Group Nashville.

“That’s where I worked with Lionel Richie and Scotty McCreery and Vince Gill and Sugarland and all the artists,” she said, “and that really informed my classroom teaching when I returned.”

Keel returned to MTSU in 2013 as chair of the recording industry department. She took over as dean of the college in January 2020. The college includes many concentrations, from journalism to audio production to songwriting.

“What’s interesting is that when I was doing all these other jobs, I was unknowingly gathering a skillset that I need as dean of this college,” she said. “I’m in my dream job. So, I hope I’m here until I retire, and I hope that’s a long, long time from now.”