I have been greatly saddened by the news of Bill Hearn’s passing on Sunday. I was notified that afternoon and my mind flooded with grief, remembrances and gratefulness for God releasing him from a very grueling medical journey.
I loved Michael Card’s simple summation. Bill was the same person he knew in the warehouse in the beginnings as was he a leader at the end. What a telling statement of consistency and humility. In 1977, I remember him working in the back of the building that housed the offices of Sparrow Records in Canoga Park, California. This was in Sparrow’s infancy when I was Director of Publishing. Back then, he was always working on his golf game. It was a joy to visit with him at the Christmas parties and special occasions held at Billy Ray and Joanne’s home. Tutored by the best possible teacher he could ever have hoped for, his father…. Bill worked his way up through the ranks of the warehouse, marketing and then heading the organization. I served with him on the NARAS board and produced records under his leadership at EMI Christian.
Father Brennan Manning spoke to a group of industry leaders and artists just a year before his passing. He told us power, adulation and money can do tragic things to a person….”They’re seductive, and can be like a disease…relentless and devastating”. It was never so with Bill. He had a “people first” warmth of heart. From my window, I viewed him as a very private person with the exception of a few close friends. Always gracious, he had a steamroller work ethic and anyone around him was motivated because of his energy. He was a listener and you never had the feeling that he was just waiting for you to complete your idea so he could tell you his. He actually listened.
I remember on two occasions where his compassion and kindness shone through. I was working with an artist at Sparrow and was excited for the release of their first record. I got a call from Bill while I was at a music conference at Hilton Head. He told me that the company had decided to put their energies into another artist rather than the one with whom I was working. He assured me that they believed in my artist, but wanted to take more time to develop a prudent strategy. I was disappointed of course, but in hindsight I saw the wisdom of the decision. What is more important here is that he made me feel like I mattered to him. This was Bill Hearn. He didn’t have to check in with me…but he did…that’s the point. The other occasion was when I sold one of my early catalogues to Sparrow. It was a very difficult thing for me to do emotionally. I hesitated right at the end…not because of money, their offer was very generous. I was having a hard time letting go because it was like I was saying goodbye to part of my heart. I was just so fragile in the moment of separation. It was Bill Hearn who wrote probably one of the kindest letters I have ever received. He consoled me, understood the difficulty of my decision and what I was feeling. He intuitively realized the why of it all. ..that is a leader. That’s what separates the executive who has title and position….from someone who truly is a leader.
Through the decades of operating in this industry I have encountered as many varying types of leaders as there are colors of the rainbow. Few have had the great leadership qualities that Bill Hearn possessed. There is a tremendous substantive void which now exists in Contemporary Christian Music…and it will not be readily filled. Our industry has lost two of it’s most influential men. …Billy Ray and Bill Hearn. From the dawn of the Jesus movement to what is now Contemporary Christian music, both men have done so much for so many people, even when they didn’t have to…but that’s just the way they were.
Bill Hearn was a powerful leader in his own right, and he did things his way with the valued mentorship of his dad. He was a tireless champion for his company and for Christian music. I hurt for his family and friends; I hurt for myself and hurt for the industry, because he represents everything honorable and caring that is Contemporary Christian Music.
It is said that there is no peace for a great man…..maybe now.
“Be at rest, be at rest once more
O my soul, for the Lord has been good
Be at rest, be at rest once more
O my soul, o my soul
Be at rest once more
For the Lord has been good to you”