Lisa Young Lee, SVP of Content and Creative at the Academy of Country Music, was a world-class journalist who’d pioneered CMT’s Insider, established a West Coast bureau for the network and authored This Is Country: A Backstage Pass to the Academy of Country Music Awards. But more importantly, she was an advocate for musicians, executives, fans and anyone else who embraced the world of country music.

Born on Christmas Eve 1968, the effervescent blond earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and a master’s in broadcast journalism from Northwestern’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism. For while Lee was a devout music fan, she was also a highly educated television journalist and producer.

Her passion for the genre led her from KTAL-TV, an NBC affiliate serving Texarkana and Shreveport, La., to working for Jim Owens Entertainment, producers of TNN Country News and Crook & Chase, from 1995 to 1999. The response to her stories was immediate.

A trusted-by-the-artists presence, she joined CMT as a reporter and producer in 2000—and covered country music not just in the U.S. but England, Switzerland, Canada and Japan. Always one to encourage deeper conversations about real issues, she also spearheaded and produced the Prism Award-winning specials “Addicted to Addiction,” “Sex in Videos: Where Is the Line?” and “Controversy: Where Is the Line?” for CMT.

In 2004 Lee moved to Los Angeles. Becoming the Hollywood-based correspondent and West Coast News Bureau Chief for CMT Insider, the network’s interview-driven news show, she covered music, movies and television and demonstrated commonalities among the three entertainment platforms.

With expertise in all aspects of television, production and country music, she was recognized by the Academy for her unusual skill set. Lee was hired for its executive team in 2007. Establishing and hoping to grow its in-house creative and video-production departments, she became lead staff producer, overseeing all video production, as well as the design, creation and editing of ACM logos, digital and printed materials. She edited ACM Tempo magazine, the annual ACM Awards program book, and the ACM and ACM Lifting Lives websites.

Caring for artists who weren’t superstars as well as those behind the scenes made Lee the obvious choice to helm The ACM Honors, a non-televised awards show created to recognize the genre’s supporting players, lifetime achievers and people who made a difference. She not only produced the live event—which will be staged this Wednesday—at the Ryman Auditorium, she made sure Honors demonstrated why each honoree was selected.

RAC Clark, Executive Producer of the ACM Awards from 1999 to the present and ACM Board Member and interim Executive Director of the Academy of Country Music in 2019, spoke of her knowledge and care when reached with the news. “Ever since she joined the Academy, she became the heart, the soul and the historian for the ACM. She was passionate about our West Coast roots—and created a magnificent snapshot of the organization and its award show with a coffee table book to celebrate our 50th anniversary," he said. "On a personal level, I relied on her to keep me honest when it came to telling the Academy’s story. She had such depth of knowledge and passion. I will miss her tremendously.”

A Writers Guild of America member, she wrote special material for “The ACM Awards.” She also often served as a liaison to CBS Entertainment at the network level. Jack Sussman, Executive Vice President of Specials, Music & Live Events, said, “They knew she was hard to say no to.” Having worked with the Academy for two decades, he went on to explain, “Lisa was smart and funny and a beautiful human being. She was a treasure trove in terms of the history and the importance of country music, and she cared about those traditions and the artists deeply. I don’t know what the Academy is going to do without her. She had a way about her that was smooth but nurturing. When you do live TV, anything can happen—and usually does. She was a calming influence who could get things done and make people in that setting feel grounded and settled. Whatever was happening, she made it okay. Lisa could talk to anyone. When we were live on the red carpet, she could talk with everyone from a production assistant to a superstar like Garth Brooks—and make everybody feel welcome and comfortable. She really just wanted to do her job: tell great stories and not let the politics get in the way. And she did. Plus, she had a smile that could light up a room. She had me—as the line goes—at ‘hello.’ I’m going to miss that smile, because I’ve lost a true friend.”

Equally important to the woman who made such a difference to so many was her high school sweetheart and husband, Doug Lee, and their two children, Grayson and Jackson. For people who worked so hard, the pair were active parents, taking deep pleasure in watching their children grow up and establish themselves as young adults.

As someone who remembers the “new girl” with the real love of country music, who never looked down her nose at anyone, I struggle to believe a woman with that much passion could be extinguished by something like brain cancer. Even as she fought back—and kept word of what she was battling to a select few—Young was still a factor and a force for the Academy. Having fallen in love with the genre as a young girl, especially listening to Elvis and Johnny Cash, then Keith Urban, Billy Joe Shaver and Brooks & Dunn, she continued working on behalf of the artists until the very end.

As four-time ACM Entertainer of the Year Kenny Chesney said of the woman who interviewed him when he won his first award, “Lisa Lee and I grew up together in this business. She was a reporter, producer, writer and big executive. She covered my heroes and my friends. She wrote about me and my mother. She truly cared about country music—and I absolutely cared about her. Goodbye, my sweet friend.”