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University of Missouri

Country Music’s Booker

From Jesse Auditorium to the Ryman Auditorium, Sally Williams puts on a show.

Sally Williams portrait

Sally Williams is only the eighth general manager in the Ryman Auditorium’s 123-year history, and she is the third woman to hold the post. Photo by Nicholas Benner.

Sally Williams will always recall standing on the catwalk nearly 50 feet above Jesse Auditorium in 1991 and chatting with pop singer Chris Isaak’s concert promoter. He asked Williams what she wanted to do after graduating from Mizzou. Her reply turned out to be a prediction: “It might be cool to work in a historic theater someday.”

Cool, indeed. It blows her mind every time she walks through the doors of the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is the general manager and vice president of concerts and entertainment at Opry Entertainment. The theater was built as the Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892 and is the most famous former home of the Grand Ole Opry. It doesn’t get much more historic than that.

Williams, BA ’93, got her start leading the Missouri Students Association’s College Music Committee. She credits much of her success to Kathy Murray, BJ ’81, MBA ’84, associate director of Student Life. “She was there to get you started, but she didn’t do the job for you,” Williams says. “Now, when I’m hiring and I hear somebody has been involved with student activities, I know that means they have an edge in terms of real business experience.”

Since 2008, Williams has booked up to 230 events a year, managed building tours and the retail shop, and supervised a staff of 150. Her newest ventures include handling brand partnerships and developing intellectual property, including Moonshine: That Hee Haw Musical, inspired by the TV variety show. The live musical will have its world premiere Sept. 2 at the Dallas Theater Center before heading to Broadway.

Show business in the Big Apple is exciting, but nothing quite matches the stage at the Ryman. “There are moments when artists come on stage and they weep because they are here. It’s magical.”