Tom Willett

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Tom Willett (born 1950) is an American musician, author and entertainment industry executive. He toured and recorded extensively as a bass player during the 1960s and 1970s, served as booking agent and manager for numerous artists in the 1980s, and worked as an artist and repertoire and marketing executive in the 1990s. In the 2000s he co-founded a fully accredited music school for college-aged musicians and entrepreneurs.

Touring and recording bands[edit]

Born in Portsmouth, Virginia, Willett moved with his family to the Washington, DC suburbs in the mid-1960s. While attending Thomas Jefferson High School in Fairfax County, VA, he played bass with DC-area Garage Rockers the Keggs, the Uncalled Four, and the Nightcrawlers, which also featured Gerry Beckley, later of the best-selling British ex-pat band, America.

While completing coursework for a B.A. in Psychology at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC, Willett toured with Brit Rock-Psychedelic outfit Orange, featuring Danny Brubeck, son of legendary Jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, on drums.

After graduation in 1972, Willett recorded and toured with the Sons of Thunder, founded by Blaine Smith in 1968 and the first U.S. Rock act to record a contemporary Gospel album for a major label (Till the Whole World Knows, Zondervan). He also played bass for D.C. Folk-Rocker Scott Wesley Brown.[citation needed]

Early non-profit work[edit]

While pursuing post-graduate studies in the mid-1970s at a commune in the Maryland suburbs, Willett helped launch both the Cornerstone Study Center (Jim and Lorraine Hiskey)[citation needed] and the C.S. Lewis Institute (James Houston, John R.W. Stott, J. I. Packer)[citation needed].[1] He and Santa Rosa, CA-native Julie Atterbury where married in 1978.

Booking and artist management[edit]

Willett returned to the music industry in 1979 when he launched the Chanan Agency to handle booking and management for DC-area talent including musician/author Brian McLaren [2] and college-circuit favorites, Jim and Kim Thomas (the Carpenter’s Tools, Say-So).[3]

In 1980, Willett joined Dharma Artist Agency [4] in Nashville, TN where he served as booking agent for a number of leading artists, including Leon Patillo (Santana), Maria Muldaur, and Richie Furay (Buffalo Springfield, Poco). He later formed Tom Willett Artist Management to provide career direction for John Fischer (Word/A&M), Scott Wesley Brown (Sparrow/EMI), and Marty McCall (MCA Songbird)[citation needed].

Artist and repertoire work in Los Angeles[edit]

In 1984, Willett was asked to become executive director of artists and repertoire in Los Angeles for ABC’s Word Records, the world's largest distributor of inspirational music and books[citation needed]. Responsible for signing new artists and overseeing production, Willett managed the creation of more than 50 award-winning CDs and videos, including Grammy and Dove Award winning records by Sam Phillips, The Choir, Dion DiMucci, Philip Bailey (Earth, Wind & Fire), Randy Stonehill and Bryan Duncan[citation needed].

While in L.A., Willett founded What? Records, a boutique label marketed and distributed by A&M Records. Working with T Bone Burnett, David Miner, John Carter and Lynn Nichols, What? released four critically acclaimed albums: IDeoLa’s ‘’Tribal Opera,’’ Tonio K.’s ‘’Romeo Unchained’’ and ‘’Notes from the Lost Civilization,’’ and Dave Perkins’ ‘’The Innocence.’’

Willett’s A&R work saw him in the studio with such notables as T Bone Burnett, Phil Ramone, Charlie Peacock, Booker T. Jones, Little Richard, Tchad Blake, Bill Schnee and Doug Sax.[citation needed]

Marketing, product management and career development[edit]

In 1990, Willett and Epic Record’s Roger Klein brokered a new marketing and distribution relationship for Word with Epic Records and Sony Music Entertainment. After relocating to New York, he, along with Dan Beck (Michael Jackson, Pearl Jam, Indigo Girls, Sade), coordinated the release and marketing of over 250 albums that generated more than $50,000,000 in revenues. While serving as Vice President of Marketing for Word/Epic, Willett and his team spearheaded international marketing campaigns for such artists as Al Green, Deniece Williams, Shirley Caesar, Phil Keaggy, Soul Mission, Sandi Patty, Petra, and Point of Grace. Through their efforts, Word/Epic artists found expanded audiences, while leading mainstream personalities such as Bruce Cockburn, Wynton Marsalis and Garrison Keillor crossed back over into the Gospel marketplace.[citation needed]

In 1995 Willett moved to Virginia, and later, Florida, to pursue writing and independent marketing. He published more than 50 articles in music and arts journals while helping manage the literary estate of Dr. Richard C. Halverson, former Chaplain of the U.S. Senate. With Beck, he formed ADi, a property development and marketing organization focused on creating unique entertainment, character and lifestyle properties. In conjunction with Peacock Papers, Adi’s products found distribution in Hallmark and other leading card and gift shops. Their recording and touring project, The American Soul and Rock & Roll Choir, went on to tour performing arts centers throughout the U.S. Willett and Beck later co-managed Hip-Hop duo, Scratch Track, and artist/writer/filmmaker, Will Gray.[citation needed]

During this period, Willett also founded Creative Development Network, providing career support to Artist/Producer T Bone Burnett (Counting Crows, Wallflowers), recording artist Sam Phillips (Virgin, Nonesuch), and Internet sensation, Boondogs, the first band signed to a major recording contract based solely on consumer voting during the first wave of downloadable .mp3s.[citation needed]

Music industry educator and mentor[edit]

In 2000, Willett was asked to spearhead a feasibility study for the creation of a fully accredited, 4-month-long off-campus study experience for college students interested in careers in the music industry. In conjunction with CCCU’s Dr. Richard Gathro and a committee of college presidents, deans and music department chairs, he created a business plan and curriculum that offered developing artists classes and hands-on experience in songwriting, recording and performance, while training young entrepreneurs in artist management, booking, publishing, record company operations and marketing. Established on the Island of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts in the Fall of 2001, Willett and the faculty and staff of the Contemporary Music Center have helped launch the careers of more than 1000 students from nearly 100 colleges and universities.[citation needed]

After relocating to Nashville in 2010, he served as an Adjunct Professor at the Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business at Belmont University before becoming President at Dark Horse Institute.

Willett’s work has been cited in ‘’Rolling Stone,’’ ‘’Billboard,’’ ‘’Musician,’’ ‘’The L.A. Times,’’ ‘’Entertainment Weekly,’’ ‘’CMJ’’ and the ‘’Hollywood Reporter,’’ while his articles encouraging excellence in music making and marketing have appeared in ‘’Image,’’ ‘’The Wittenburg Door,’’ ‘’CCM,’’ ‘’Release,’’ ‘’The Other Side’’ and ‘’Prism.’’[citation needed]

Selected credits[edit]

Agent, Manager, Career Development

Executive producer and A&R

  • Philip Bailey, The Wonders of His Love, A&M
  • Philip Bailey, Triumph, A&M (Grammy)
  • The Choir, Diamonds and Rain, Word
  • The Choir, Chase the Kangaroo, Word
  • The Choir, Wide-Eyed Wonder, Word
  • The Choir, Circle Slide, Word/Epic
  • Bruce Cockburn, Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws, Word
  • Dion, Seasons, Word
  • Dion, Kingdom in the Streets, Word/A&M
  • Dion, Velvet & Steel, Word/A&M
  • Bryan Duncan, Anonymous Confessions…, Word
  • Bryan Duncan, Mercy, Epic
  • John Fischer, Between the Answers, Word
  • John Fischer, Casual Crimes, Word
  • Mark Heard (iDeoLa), Tribal Opera, What?/A&M
  • Benny Hester, Benny from Here, Word
  • Benny Hester, Through the Window, Word
  • Leon Patillo, I'll Never Stop Loving You, Word
  • Leon Patillo, The Sky's the Limit, Word
  • Leon Patillo, Love Around the World, Word
  • Sam (Leslie) Phillips, Dancing with Danger, Word
  • Sam (Leslie) Phillips, Black and White in a Grey World, Word
  • Sam (Leslie) Phillips, The Turning, Word/A&M
  • Sam (Leslie) Phillips, Recollection, Word
  • Rhythm House, (self-titled), Word
  • Randy Stonehill, Celebrate This Heartbeat, Word
  • Randy Stonehill, Love Beyond Reason, Word
  • Randy Stonehill, Wild Frontier, Word
  • Randy Stonehill, Can't Buy a Miracle, Word
  • Randy Stonehill, Return to Paradise, Word/A&M
  • Tonio K., Romeo Unchained, What?/A&M
  • Tonio K., Notes from the Lost Civilization, What?/A&M
  • Tonio K., Olé, Gadfly
  • Various Artists, Adventures in the Land of Big Beats & Happy Feets
  • Various Artists, Twelve New Faces
  • Various Artists, Voices


  • Acappella, Acappella America, Epic
  • Maia Amada, Maia Amada, Epic
  • Anointed, Spiritual Love Affair, Epic (Dove)
  • Philip Bailey, Family Affair, Epic
  • Philip Bailey, Best of…, Epic
  • Helen Baylor, Highly Recommended, Epic
  • Helen Baylor, Look A Little Closer, Epic
  • Helen Baylor, Start All Over, Epic (Dove)
  • Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, Live with Friends, Epic
  • Rev. Milton Brunson and…, Through God's Eyes, Epic (Grammy)
  • Shirley Caesar, Stand Still, Epic (Grammy)
  • Shirley Caesar, He's Working It Out For You, Epic (Grammy, Dove)
  • Glen Campbell, Favorite Hymns, Epic
  • Bruce Carroll, Walk On, Epic (Dove)
  • The Choir, Circle Slide, Epic
  • Bruce Cockburn, Christmas, Columbia
  • Bruce Cockburn, Dart to the Heart, Columbia
  • Jesse Dixon, I Know What Prayer Can Do, Epic
  • O'Landa Draper and the Associates, Above and Beyond, Epic
  • Bryan Duncan, Mercy, Epic
  • Bryan Duncan, Slow Revival, Epic
  • First Call, Human Song, Epic
  • First Call, Sacred Journey, Epic
  • The Florida Boys, A Taste of Heaven, Epic
  • Al Green, One in a Million, Epic
  • Al Green, Love Is Reality, Epic
  • Guardian, Fire & Love, Epic
  • Guardian, Miracle Mile, Epic
  • Guardian, Swing Swang Swung, Epic
  • Kurt Kaiser, The Lost Art of Listening, Epic
  • Phil Keaggy, Beyond Nature, Epic (Dove)
  • Phil Keaggy, Blue (Crimson and Blue), Epic
  • Garrison Keillor and the Hopeful Gospel Quartet, Sony
  • Wynton Marsalis, In This House, Columbia
  • Babbie Mason, World of Difference, Epic
  • MidSouth, Lessons of Life, Epic
  • Mighty Clouds of Joy, Sing and Shout, Epic
  • Mighty Clouds of Joy, Pray for Me, Epic (Grammy)
  • Cindy Morgan, Real Life, Epic (Dove)
  • Michael Omartian, The Race, Epic
  • Sandi Patty, Another Time, Another Place, Epic (Grammy, Dove, Gold)
  • Sandi Patty, Finest Moments, Epic (Gold)
  • Sandi Patty, Le Voyage, Epic (Dove)
  • Sandi Patty, Find It On the Wings, Epic (Dove)
  • Petra, Unseen Power, Epic (Grammy)
  • Petra, Wake-Up Call, Epic (Grammy, Dove)
  • Petra, No Doubt, Epic (Dove)
  • Point of Grace, The Whole Truth, Epic (Dove, Gold)
  • Stephen Soles, Walk by Love, Word
  • Soul Mission, Soul Mission, Epic
  • Russ Taff, Under Their Influence, Vol. 1, Epic (Grammy)
  • The Whites, Doin' It by the Book, Epic
  • Deniece Williams, Lullabies to Dreamland, Epic


  • "Archive of a Culture—The Museum of Television and Radio," Prism
  • "Artist Representation—A Look at the Heart," Contemporary Christian Music
  • "Between Heaven and Earth—Diary of an Artist," Prism
  • "Bible Versus®," The Wittenburg Door
  • "Burnett Thompson—Artist Profile," Prism
  • "Casting the Muse in Feminine Hues—The National Museum of Women in the Arts"
  • "Contemporary American Attitudes about God," The Wittenburg Door
  • "Down in the Groove," Image
  • "Exit Martin—The National Civil Rights Museum," Prism
  • "Faith and Activism," Prism
  • "Faith and Creation," Prism
  • "Faith and Death," Prism
  • "Faith and Intellect," Prism
  • "Faith and Money," Prism
  • "Faith and the Future," Prism
  • "Gazing Over the Edge—Activists and Artists Together," The Other Side
  • "Giants in the Land—G. K. Chesterton," Prism
  • "If Someone Didn't Say It, They Should," The Wittenburg Door
  • "Image—A Journal of the Arts and Religion," Prism
  • "Jim Hodgson—Artist Profile," Prism
  • "Oh Mercy," World Christian
  • "Pilgrim at Twenty—Annie Dillard," Prism
  • "Simone Weil: Contemporary Saintliness Redux," Prism
  • "Slow Train Coming," Washington Arts Group Journal
  • "St. Bernard—G. Bernard Shaw," Prism
  • "Strong Hand of Love—Mark Heard," Release
  • "The Art of Attack—The Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center," Prism
  • "The Artist: Devotion Plus Creativity," Contemporary Christian Music
  • "The Christian and Creativity," Joyful Noise
  • "The Gift of Criticism—H. L. Mencken," Prism
  • "The State of Christian Media," Prism
  • "Toward a Difficult Hope—Albert Camus," Prism
  • "Tribute—The Songs of Andraé Crouch," Release
  • "Will Horrors Never Cease?—The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum," Prism

External links[edit]