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“Under the proven leadership of John Esposito, one of the industry's most successful executives, with an incredible track record on both the creative and business sides, I'm confident this new division will become the preeminent home for Nashville recording artists."
——Lyor Cohen
YEE-HAW! WMG FORMS WARNER MUSIC NASHVILLE
WEA Topper John Esposito to Head Up Division; Mike Jbara to Succeed Esposito
As we told you in an Aug. 21 Rumor Mill item, Warner Music Group has restructured and expanded its Nashville-based operations with the formation of Warner Music Nashville, headed up by current WEA chief John Esposito. This new division will include Warner Bros. Nashville, the relaunched Atlantic Nashville label and Word Entertainment.

Esposito has been running WEA since 2002, first as President, then President/CEO. Effective immediately, Esposito will assume the newly created position of President, Warner Music Nashville, and will be based in—you guessed it—Nashville.

Mike Jbara, presently WEA's EVP/COO, has been given his former boss’ President/CEO title.

As expected, Warner Bros. Nashville EVP/GM Bill Bennett will exit the company “to pursue new opportunities.” During his tenure, Bennett oversaw successful projects from Big & Rich and Blake Shelton, while also helping develop The Wreckers, Gloriana and James Otto, among others. Mark Bright will be retained as Word’s President/CEO.

Said WMG day-to-day ruler Lyor Cohen in this morning’s announcement, affecting a southern accent: "Nashville is a critical music community, both creatively and economically. Warner Bros. Records Nashville under the leadership of Bill Bennett has done an excellent job representing WMG in this vibrant music capital. With the creation of Warner Music Nashville, we will build upon the outstanding work of Bill and his team and create even more A&R, marketing and promotional firepower. Under the proven leadership of John Esposito, one of the industry's most successful executives, with an incredible track record on both the creative and business sides, I'm confident this new division will become the preeminent home for Nashville recording artists."

Added Tom Whalley, who had hired Bennett and overseen WB Nashville: "I am very proud of the work we've accomplished over the years, especially the fantastic success we've seen from our multi-platinum artists such as Faith Hill, Michelle Branch and Big & Rich, as well as the outstanding results we are seeing from developing artists such as Gloriana, James Otto and Word's Francesca Battistelli. To now be given an even greater mandate from WMG and the dedicated efforts of a talented executive such as Espo is a terrific opportunity for our team in Nashville to focus on expanding WMG's presence in the Country and Christian genres. Bill is a terrific executive who's leaving at the top of his game, and I want to personally thank him for his excellent work leading Warner Bros. Nashville to its best performance in many years."

Next up was Atlantic Chairman/CEO Craig Kallman, who intoned: "The past year has seen Atlantic Records return to the country world for the first time in nearly a decade. We're back because we have been truly inspired by a new generation of artists who came to us with music we loved, and who we simply had to have on the label. The phenomenal success of the Zac Brown Band has proved that our instincts and our timing were right and, along with upcoming artists like Jesse Lee and the Invite, they are taking us down the country path again. So we're thrilled that our friend Espo is heading south to lead the Warner Music country charge. He's not only a brilliant executive and a great guy, but above all he's a passionate, genuine fan whose career has been driven by a true love for the music."

Finally, Esposito got his at-bat: "This is a dream come true for me. I have long been involved with and have loved the artistry, creativity and wonderful vibe of Nashville. I look forward to enhancing Warner Music's business there by building upon Warner Bros.' and Word's great accomplishments while also working to establish Atlantic as a powerful and artist-friendly destination in the Nashville community."

Esposito joined WMG from IDJ, where, as GM/EVP under Cohen, he managed the company's day-to-day operations. He came to IDJ from PolyGram.

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