Whiteside's appointment to the Academy comes after 23 years in the music and entertainment industries, most recently serving 6 years at the Country Music Association where he began as Senior Vice President of Marketing and Strategic Partnerships prior to being elevated to the role of Chief Marketing Officer.
In his time at CMA, Whiteside was responsible for overseeing the development of multi-million-dollar marketing and media campaigns for CMA's three annual television properties and strengthening the partnership with CMA's exclusive broadcast partner ABC Television Network and The Walt Disney Company. Additionally, Whiteside dedicated efforts to identify and build strategic partnerships with multi-platform media partners, digital companies, and Fortune 500 brands. Notable accomplishments include increased ratings for the monumental 53rd annual CMA Awards in November 2019, his leadership role in the year-long campaign for "The 50th Annual CMA Awards" and the groundbreaking "Forever Country" single and music video campaign; serving as the lead Country strategist for the release of the Ken Burns Country Music documentary; award-winning creative campaigns positioning CMA Awards as the leader in music awards shows; the launch of CMA Brand Marketing Summits in New York, Toronto and London; dramatic growth across CMA digital platforms; the launch of CMA's content creation efforts; integrated media partnerships with top digital/DSPs, radio, and cable television partners; re-branding of CMA Music Festival and Fan Fair X; 40% increase in annual sponsorship revenue; supporting the CMA Board of Directors' expansion of international efforts; overall re-tooling of CMA Marketing, Research, Communications and Strategic Partnerships teams to better serve the needs of the Country Music industry.
Whiteside's diverse, multi-media career began in 1996 at The Walt Disney Company. There he was regarded as a marketing and partnerships innovator with a strong reputation for generating marketing value, incremental revenue, and longevity of music, film, TV, and live entertainment franchises. He was responsible for award-winning marketing, creative productions, live events, and digital partnership programs during his tenure with numerous Disney-owned companies including Disney Music Group, The Walt Disney Studios, Disney Channel, and Disney Consumer Products. Some of his notable accomplishments include leading multi-platform marketing and partnership campaigns that achieved more than 100 No. 1 films, TV series, album releases and concert tours. This success was driven by Whiteside's ability to work in partnership with artists, labels, producers and talent representatives in Country, Pop, Adult Contemporary, R&B, Jazz, and New Age to deliver best-in-class marketing and creative productions for countless superstar-level artists and was instrumental in launching the music careers of some of today's most successful artists. In addition, he developed brand and retail strategies for the world's largest film and TV franchises, including Hannah Montana, High School Musical, Cars, Toy Story, Pirates of the Caribbean, Mickey Mouse, Disney Princess and more, each generating more than $3 billion in retail sales. He secured over $100MM annually in media value through brand partnerships and broadcast marketing efforts with top networks including ABC, ABC Family, CMT, MTV, VH-1, Disney Channel, ESPN, HGTV, GAC, PBS, VH1, and many more. In the business and corporate development arena, Whiteside engineered innovative product development and strategic partnership programs that drove Walt Disney Records annual revenues by more than 500 percent to gain a #1 independent record company ranking by Billboard. He also served on Disney's Corporate Brand Management and Synergy Executive Committees, which identified and set strategy for the top franchise and marketing priorities across the Company. There he represented the three Disney Music Group labels which included Walt Disney Records, Hollywood Records, and Lyric Street Records in integration of artists into Disney-wide initiatives.
In 2011, Whiteside formed Nomad Entertainment Group in Hollywood, CA, where he represented multi-genre music artists, producers and songwriters, and developed marketing and digital campaigns, brand strategy, and partnerships for entertainment brand clients.
Whiteside's professional affiliations have included Leadership Music, NARAS, Music Business Association, Digital LA, CMO Club, LA Office, American Marketing Association and Promotion Marketing Association. His current Board positions include the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, Nashville Cares and the TJ Martell Foundation. In 2013 he completed the Executive Program at the renowned UCLA Anderson School of Management.
Lyndsay Cruz, a seasoned professional experienced in engaging celebrities in charitable affairs, began her career as a political appointee under George W. Bush's White House where she worked as an Advance Representative for the Secretary of Education, Secretary of Treasury and the Vice President. She then went on to the international non-profit Oxfam America, where she created and managed their first-ever public figures ambassador program for 13 years. She left Oxfam to independently consult for a number of non-profit organizations, including two of the most successful fundraisers in New Orleans' history, including leading the talent team of Brad Pitt's Make It Right Galas in 2012 and 2014, and other major events and fundraising efforts for The Malala Fund, Emily's List, Muscular Dystrophy Association, Girl Rising, The World Bank, Harlem Village Academies and many others.
She brings expertise from a range of fields, specifically talent outreach and recruitment, media and public relations, and logistics management to the newly created role of ACM Lifting Lives Executive Director. Cruz will lead and collaborate with stakeholders to further the mission of improving lives through the power of music, and execute ACM Lifting Lives 501(c)(3) California Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation, as well as organizational relationships, to meet qualifying needs.
Alexa Fasheh first joined the Academy staff as Director of Finance in 2011. A Los Angeles native, Fasheh graduated from Loyola Marymount University in 2000 with a Bachelor of Science in accounting. She then went on to work as an accountant for a variety of CPA firms, including the Haber Corporation where she spent 5 years as the ACM's outside accountant before joining the ACM staff full-time.
In her role as Vice President of Finance & Operations, Fasheh oversees the Academy's finances and benefits packages, as well as credentials for the ACM Awards. She reports to Damon Whiteside, CEO of the Academy.
Jen Heaton, a California native, joined the Academy of Country Music in 2017, most recently serving as Director, Strategic Partnerships and now elevated to Vice President. In her time at the Academy, Heaton grew existing partnerships and continues to expand the Academy’s footprint with corporate partners. Recent endeavors for Heaton include renewing partnerships with Ford, 1000 Stories Wine and Dr Pepper, in addition to creating new relationships with brands such as Crown Royal, T-Mobile and AT&T. Heaton’s efforts in 2020 focused on supporting fundraising for the ACM Lifting Lives COVID-19 Response Fund and collaborating to launch a national vaccine PSA campaign with the Ad Council. Prior to her time at ACM, Heaton worked with Arizona Diamondbacks in both Sales and Corporate Partnerships where she oversaw contracts and executed activations with the team. Heaton graduated from University of Arizona where she studied Communications and Business. Heaton currently resides in California with her husband and their new addition, Zoe.
In her role as Vice President, Heaton will continue to plan and execute the ACM and ACM Lifting Lives® partners programs—including identifying, cultivating and developing new sponsors across industries and developing a multi-year partnership strategy. She reports to Damon Whiteside, CEO of the Academy.
Rory Levine joins the Academy of Country Music as Vice President, Marketing and Digital Strategy & Engagement from a career leading and growing some of the most resonant media brands. Most recently, he led all consumer recruitment and registration efforts for The Atlantic’s acclaimed events business, supporting a robust slate of 150+ premiere live journalism events staged all across the U.S. Prior to that, he notably served as Vice President, Marketing and Audience Engagement at Viacom’s country music and lifestyle cable television network CMT, heading all consumer-facing advertising campaigns, promotional partnerships, and social media activation, notably including the successful migration and relaunch of the fan-favorite music drama series Nashville for its two final seasons and nearly 40 all new episodes. Levine has also run marketing and communications at U.S. cable TV channel BBC America, including launching breakout original series Orphan Black and guiding the remarkably successful rejuvenation and American ascendency of historic sci-fi title Doctor Who through its iconic 50th anniversary global celebration, and for historic arts non-profit AIGA, the Professional Association for Design. Over the last year, he has worked as a marketing and brand strategy consultant for a variety of celebrated businesses, including the Grand Ole Opry, Blake Shelton’s Ole Red restaurants, public-private partnership state organization Launch Tennessee, and user-generated content showcase tool TINT. He hails from the Hudson Valley of New York state and is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.
In his role at the Academy, Levine oversees brand marketing and positioning, communications and publicity, digital and social community engagement, creative and content, and advertising and paid media planning. Levine reports to Damon Whiteside, the CEO of the Academy.
As Vice President, Artist & Industry Relations, Board Administration & Governance, Moore spearheads artist communication and engagement within the Academy. He also directs the overall Board communication of ACM, in addition to managing ticketing for all ACM events. He supervises all Academy membership operations, in addition to Awards voting and processes. Finally, he was a founding member of the Academy’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force, and now oversees all the Academy’s DEI initiatives.
Atlanta-born and Chicago-raised, Moore attended Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI, where he graduated with a degree in Broadcasting and Electronic Communications. His life-long love for Country Music dovetailed professionally with an early job in country radio at WMIL-FM in Milwaukee, where he worked as a morning show production assistant. Moore joined the Academy in 2011, where he most recently served as Senior Director, Governance & Board Administration, a position that was absorbed into his current expanded role. He reports to Damon Whiteside, CEO of the Academy.
He is a Leadership Music alumnus, class of 2022. 2021 Billboard Pride List. Named to ‘Next Big Thing – Rising Executives List 2019’ in MusicRow Magazine. SOLID alumnus, class of 2014.
Kraft’s background in design includes US Weekly, Field & Stream and Better Home & Gardens, among other national magazine brands. Most recently, she served as a freelance Art Director for several clients including Ryman Hospitality and Big Machine Music, as well as several creative agencies. Originally from New Jersey, Kraft received her bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design from Monmouth University.
In her role, she steers the overall visual branding and identity of the organization, as well as major programmatic and live event tentpoles like the ACM Awards, Academy of Country Music Honors, and ACM Party for a Cause, and work closely with the Director of Content and Manager of Digital and Social Media to strategize support media and content strategies. She reports to Rory Levine, VP, Marketing and Digital Strategy & Engagement.
Steve Mekler joins the Academy after more than three years with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum where he served as Senior Digital Manager, overseeing creative and marketing for owned properties and assisting with content strategies for multiplatform marketing campaigns. Over those three years, Mekler simultaneously founded and serves as Creative Director at Stove Creative, collaborating with dozens of clients in a global marketplace. Previous stops include L3 Entertainment and BBR Music Group.
In his role, Mekler leads and manages the Academy’s organic promotional reach through both traditional and unexpected partnerships and collaborate heavily with the marketing and creative departments to develop and maintain a clear brand identity for the Academy. He reports to Rory Levine, VP, Marketing and Digital Strategy & Engagement.
A Chicago native, Melissa Moldovan joined the Academy in 2015, fresh off a four-year stint at the nationally syndicated radio show The Big Time with Whitney Allen, where she worked as an assistant producer and fill-in co-host while simultaneously developing the show's social media marketing strategy. Her work there led to the creation of a social media staff position, which Moldovan undertook in addition to her other roles. Once she joined the Academy of Country Music, Moldovan has been an integral part in leading on all publicity, marketing, radio and promotional efforts throughout her past six years.
In her role as Director, Moldovan executes and oversees all media relations, radio promotions, and leads on Academy and ACM Lifting Lives press materials. Additionally, Moldovan will oversee media relations and radio promotions while the 57th ACM Awards makes its live debut on Amazon Prime Video, marking the first time a major awards show will stream live. Moldovan will also lead those same efforts on Academy of Country Music Honors, ACM Party for a Cause events, ACM Lifting Lives events, red carpets, and work closely with the marketing and events teams. With the support of her department, PR Task Force and Radio Task Force, she will also work to create new and strategic initiatives to benefit the Academy of Country Music entity. Moldovan reports to Rory Levine, VP, Marketing and Digital Strategy & Engagement.
Born and raised in Reading, MA, just north of Boston, Lanni (Gagnon) Niggli first joined the Academy full time in December 2017 as Coordinator, Events. Niggli attended Ithaca College where she received a bachelor’s degree in Communication, Management, and Design. During her final year at Ithaca, she participated in the Ithaca College Los Angeles program and interned for the Academy. As an intern, she assisted the Events department with planning and logistics for the 50th Annual ACM Awards that took place at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium. Upon completion of her internship, she went on to work in the events industry in Los Angeles, gaining further experience in entertainment, nonprofit, and corporate events. She also continued to freelance for the Academy, joining the events team on-site for the 51st and 52nd ACM Award shows.
In her role as Director, Niggli oversees the planning and logistics for the ACM Awards, Academy of Country Music Honors, and ACM Party for a Cause events, including event production, budgets, security, health and safety, red carpet, transportation, food and beverage and partnership fulfillment. With the support of her department and the events committee, she also works to create new and strategic event initiatives that will benefit both the ACM community and ACM Lifting Lives. Niggli reports to Alexa Fasheh, VP, Finance & Operations.
Kris Reyes joined the Academy as Director, Finance & Operations in 2023. Reyes has previous experience in Operations Accounting at TravelCenters of America, where she worked for the past two decades. Originally from El Paso, Texas, Reyes has an education in MicroComputer Applications and Business Management and received her bachelor’s degree in Accounting from the University of Phoenix.
In her role as Director, Reyes will focus on process improvements, team building, and policies and procedures, amongst other responsibilities, across the finance and operations of the Academy. She will also lead the Academy’s human resources efforts at the organization’s new Nashville headquarters. Reporting to Alexa Fasheh, VP Finance and Operations, Reyes will work across the Academy team to help implement and identify opportunities
Originally from Petaluma, CA, Stessman spent four years on the East Coast where she studied broadcast and digital journalism at Syracuse University. Following that, Stessman kept busy with internships at NBC's Affiliate Marketing Department, The Meredith Vieira Show and The TODAY Show, as well as the Academy of Country Music, where she supported the Events team for the Academy's historic 50th Anniversary in Texas. She joined the Academy in Fall 2016 as Assistant, Events, following an internship during the historic 50th Anniversary ACM Awards show in Texas, and has since held the titles Coordinator, Events; and Manager, Artist & Industry Relations, Board Administration & Governance with the organization.
In her role as Director, Artist & Industry Relations and Board & Governance, Stessman focuses on building and developing relations across the ACM staff, ACM Board of Directors, and the Country Music industry, focusing heavily on talent strategies for the Academy, as well as championing opportunities to maintain the Academy's West Coast presence and history while exploring new relationships and opportunities in Nashville. She also books artist visits at the Academy’s new Nashville headquarters and serves as talent manager for select ACM and ACM Lifting Lives live events. Additionally, she organizes the Leadership Development and ACM Board election process while continuing to execute the Academy’s quarterly Board meetings. Stessman reports to Tommy Moore, Vice President, Artist & Industry Relations, Board Administration & Governance.
Born in Kokomo, Indiana and raised in both Shelby Township, Michigan and Allentown, Pennsylvania, Libby Gardner joined the Academy full-time in 2019 as Coordinator, Creative & Content and was promoted to Manager, Content & Editorial in 2021. Gardner attended Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication, where she received a bachelor's degree in Television, Radio, and Film. During her time at Syracuse, Gardner interned at the Academy with the Creative & Content team and continued working for the Academy as a freelance field producer following her graduation in 2018. Gardner is currently a member of SOLID’s Education Committee, a Music For Seniors Board Member, and the Events Co-Chair of the Women’s Music Business Association (WMBA).
In her role as Senior Manager, Gardner oversees the day-to-day management of the Academy’s owned media portfolio, including the Academy's web properties, branded social channels, short-form digital content, photo archives, and email newsletters. She also serves as editor of acclaimed quarterly membership magazine ACM Tempo, as well as writes and oversees the script for the industry-favorite ACM Honors show. Gardner reports to Rory Levine, Vice President, Marketing and Digital Strategy & Engagement.
A Seattle native with a background in TV News where he won multiple Emmy Awards, Jesse Knutson joined the Academy in January 2022 as Manager, Publicity & Media Relations and led the Academy’s publicity efforts for major live event tentpoles, including the innovative 57th and 58th ACM Awards on Prime Video, the first major awards show to livestream exclusively, and the 15th ACM Honors show, as well as Academy and ACM Lifting Lives organizational and programmatic initiatives. Jesse previously served as a TV reporter at Nashville’s NewsChannel 5 (WTVF), Seattle’s KING 5, and Harrisburg, PA’s WHP-TV, and served as a producer at Los Angeles’ KNBC.
In his role as Senior Manager, Knutson will continue to lead publicity and media relations efforts for the Academy of Country Music. Those responsibilities include publicity, promotional campaigns and strategies for raising awareness and coverage of the ACM Awards, Academy initiatives, programs and events, and ACM Lifting Lives philanthropic work. Knutson will draft press materials and work closely with the ACM marketing and events teams on logistics of red carpets and liaising with photographers and media, as well as organizational and programmatic priorities for the Academy. Knutson reports to Rory Levine, Vice President, Marketing and Digital Strategy & Engagement.
Haley Montgomery joined the Academy in 2020 as Manager, Awards & Membership after holding a variety of roles across the industry including brand partnerships, merchandise, brand development, touring, and industry relations. She is one of the founders of the Family Alliance in Music, which provides community and support to members of the industry who currently have families, serve as caretakers, or plan on building a family in the future.
In her role as Senior Manager, Montgomery will continue to focus on a wide array of award processes including nomination reviews, category definitions, expert category panels, voting processes and timing, and winner celebrations outside of the main award categories. On the membership side, she will continue to oversee recruitment of new members, programming, benefits, member communications, and marketing, and the development of a more inclusive and international membership base, building on her successful work leading the Academy to historic membership numbers. Montgomery reports to Tommy Moore, Vice President, Artist & Industry Relations, Board Administration & Governance.
Originally from Brentwood, Tennessee, Taylor Wolf attended Pepperdine University in California where she earned a bachelor's degree in Psychology. She joined ACM Lifting Lives in February 2019 as Coordinator of ACM Lifting Lives after working in the healthcare industry. Wolf was promoted to Manager of ACM Lifting Lives in 2020 and is currently serving her fourth term as Secretary of the ACM Lifting Lives Board.
In her role as Senior Manager, Wolf will continue to work in tandem with ACM Lifting Lives Executive Director Lyndsay Cruz and the ACM Lifting Lives Board of Directors to drive forward the mission of the organization. Wolf’s scope includes programmatic work such as ACM Lifting Lives Music Camp, strategic fundraising efforts, and beneficiary, partner, and industry relations. Wolf reports to Lyndsay Cruz.
Born and raised in Westchester, New York, Jennifer Davis attended Quinnipiac University in Hamden, CT where she received her bachelor’s degree in Public Relations and Marketing. Upon graduation, she went on to work in the events industry, planning various non-profit and corporate galas throughout New York City with event firm Buckley Hall Events. Davis then shifted to the venue side of the business and was on the special events team at Madison Square Garden, coordinating a portfolio of network television upfronts, the American Theatre Wing’s Tony Awards, television and film Shoots, NYU graduations, and more at MSG venues including Radio City Music Hall, Beacon Theatre, Hulu Theater at MSG, Chicago Theatre, and MSG Arena. Prior to joining the Academy, she more recently led VIP & Fan Experience and Events for FirstBank Amphitheater’s inaugural concert season in Franklin, TN, after her big move from New York City to Nashville in January 2021.
In her role as Manager, Davis manages venue logistics and event operations for the ACM Awards, Academy of Country Music Honors, and ACM Party for a Cause events, including red carpet, credentials, health and safety, budgets, décor, signage, transportation, food and beverage, partnership fulfillment and talent details. With the support of her department and the events committee, she also manages additional meetings, ancillary events and activations throughout the year. She reports to Lanni (Gagnon) Niggli, Director, Events.
Born and raised in Modesto, California, Rebecca Fisher graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Upon graduation, she moved to San Francisco, where she worked with innovative companies Workday and Experian, managing client relations and customer marketing for Fortune 500 companies. In 2017, Fisher joined Taillight in Nashville, TN, a leading production company specializing in commercials, branded content, live television programming, and music videos. Fisher created campaigns for major brands including Kleenex, Cottonelle, Ram Trucks, Camping World, and many more. During her time at Taillight, she had the pleasure of working on ACM Party for a Cause, producing a one-hour musical countdown to the awards show on Facebook Live.
In her role as Manager, Fisher manages and activates partnerships for the Academy and manages relationships with key strategic partners, communicates sponsorship needs internally, and secures new respective ACM brand partners. She also oversees brand activations and sponsorship at the ACM Awards. She reports to Jen Heaton, VP, Strategic Partnerships.
Kortney Toney joined the Academy as Manager, Programming & Community Engagement in 2023. Toney has worked in the music industry in Nashville for more than a decade, with focuses in marketing, communications, and the cross-culturalism spaces. Toney has previously worked at Opry Entertainment Group, Schermerhorn Symphony Center, and Weller Media Agency, among other companies. She serves as a Governor of the Recording Academy’s Nashville Chapter, has been named to the Unmanageable Board of Directors, is the former President of the Women’s Music Business Association (WMBA), volunteers as a MusiCares Ambassador, is an alumna of the GRAMMY NEXT program, serves on the TedX Women’s Steering Committee, is a former CMA DEI committee member, and an alumna of the inaugural Women’s Leadership Academy. Prior to joining the Academy of Country Music, Toney served as a member of the inaugural ACM LEVel Up cohort, where she was instrumental in the launch of the OnRamp Program, a partnership between the Academy and the Black Music Action Coalition (BMAC). Toney is originally from Huntsville, Alabama, and graduated from Lambuth University in Jackson, Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree in Entertainment Music Industry and a minor in Film and Media.
In her role, Toney will support the Academy’s key diversity initiative programs including OnRamp, LEVel Up, and the DEI Task Force, as well as future efforts towards welcoming audiences to Country Music that transcend demographics and geography. Toney will engage the Nashville music community with ACM events and activities and identify pathways into Country Music. Toney reports to Tommy Moore, Vice President, Artist & Industry Relations.
Alexis Bingham joined the Academy in 2021 as Assistant, Events. Originally from Watkins Glen, New York, Bingham graduated from Ithaca College in December 2020, where she studied Communication, Management and Design. She was hired by the Academy as an Events intern and worked the 56th ACM Awards, 14th ACM Honors, and ACM Party for a Cause events before joining the staff full-time in October 2021.
In her role as Coordinator, Bingham will support red carpet planning, credentialing for ACM events, organizing and implementing health and safety protocols, and planning and executing the quarterly Academy Board meetings. She will work closely on budgets, décor, signage, transportation, food and beverage, partnership fulfillment, and talent details. Bingham reports to Lanni Niggli, Director, Events.
Raised in Lawrenceville, Georgia, Brittany Uhniat attended college at Belmont University and began her career in the music industry at Words and Music, under Big Deal Music, as a publishing administration coordinator. Before joining the Academy, she served as a creative coordinator at Resin8 Music, where she was responsible for handling artist relations, social media, and graphic content creation. Uhniat is an alumna of SOLID and served on the board of directors as the social co-chair in 2019.
In her role as Coordinator, Uhniat assists in scheduling and managing video shoots and other content productions. She also assists with the day-to-day management of the Academy’s content platforms, including websites, quarterly membership magazine ACM TEMPO, and more. Uhniat reports to Rory Levine, Vice President, Marketing and Digital Strategy & Engagement.
In her role as Executive Assistant, she will provide administrative support to the CEO, Board of Directors and Executive Team. She reports directly to CEO of the Academy, Damon Whiteside.
Born and raised in Palm City, Florida, Michael Stern attended Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY. Stern worked at Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival and interned with the Academy of Country Music’s Events team beginning in January 2022. After the 57th Academy of Country Music Awards, he stayed on as an intern, assisting both the Events and Artist and Industry Relations teams.
In his role as Office Manager, Stern manages logistics for the Academy’s new Nashville headquarters in the Nashville Warehouse Co. building in the Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood, as well as assists with event operations for the ACM Awards, Academy of Country Music Honors, ACM Party for a Cause, and ACM Board Meetings. Stern reports to Alexa Fasheh, VP, Finance and Operations.