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Donna Jean Hilley (born Whitten, June 30, 1940 – June 20, 2012) was an American music publishing executive who served as CEO of Sony/ATV Music Publishing from 1994 to her retirement in 2005. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, Hilley began her career at WKDA in Nashville and went on to work in country music publishing.[1]

Donna Hilley
Born(1940-06-30)June 30, 1940
DiedJune 20, 2012(2012-06-20) (aged 71)
ResidenceNashville, Tennessee
OccupationMusic publishing executive
EmployerSony/ATV Music Publishing

A graduate of Jones Valley High School in Birmingham, Hilley was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1999. She had been married to her high school sweetheart from Birmingham for over 40 years.[2]

Hilley was born in Montevallo Alabama. Her father, John Truman Whitten, was a lineman for the Alabama Power Company. Her mother, Janie Mae Whitten (née Sizemore) was a stay at home mom when Donna was born at home after a long difficult labor (many births occurred at home in the rural South in those days). Her parents came from very poor psychosocial situation, and Donna's parents had moved up the socioeconomic ladder only a bit. Her brother, Jimmy Whitten, was born 5 years later, and a sister Diane Whitten, was born 14 years later. By this time the family had moved to Birmingham for her dad's job.

Hilley married her high school boyfriend and moved to Nashville (he was at Vanderbilt) immediately after high school. Though armed with only a high school degree and no experience, she began working at a radio station in Nashville. Two young girls, Vickie and Debbie, were born soon after. The couple was quite poor. With a husband in school and Hilley at a low paying but fun job, the money was scarce. Several years later Hilley followed one of the disc jockeys from WKDA into his advertising firm, Bill Hudson and Associates. She moved up the hierarchy in that position. In 1980 Donna and Rayford were surprised with the birth of their third daughter Whitney (19 & 21 years younger than Vickie and Debbie). Several years later her previous boss at the radio station had also been running a music publishing company, Tree. When Mr Stapp ( owner of Tree ) called Hilley to say his secretary had taken ill and had stated only one person could do her job, and that person was Donna Hilley, Donna moved over to Tree Publishing. The position was "executive assistant" to Jack Stapp. Hilley worked her way up to president and CEO later of Tree Publishing.

Hilley's grandson, Mitchell Tenpenny, is a country music singer-songwriter.[3]

Hilley often fibbed about her age and The Tennessean reported that she was 65 when she died, although she was actually about to turn 72.[2]


  1. ^ "Former Sony/ATV Music CEO Donna Hilley Passes Away". WTVF. 20 June 2012. Archived from the original on 26 December 2012. Retrieved 19 February 2013.
  2. ^ a b Colurso, Mary (21 June 2012). "Birmingham native Donna Hilley, longtime country music executive, has died". Retrieved 19 February 2013.
  3. ^ "Nashville... Born and Raised". January 5, 2018. Retrieved October 1, 2018.

Reference Diane Whitten-Vile, sister