The Tennessee native co-wrote the anthemic #1 hit, “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys,” which earned Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson a Grammy Award in 1978. The song was featured in the Robert Redford/Jane Fonda movie, Electric Horseman, has been recorded more than 300 times and has been used in major television ad campaigns. Bruce also co-wrote the Tanya Tucker Top 5 hit, “Texas When I Die,” as well as the theme song for hit TV series, “Maverick.” Her son - SongBird’s Creative Director Trey Bruce - has penned several #1 country hits including “Look Heart, No Hands,” and “Whisper My Name” for Randy Travis; “How Your Love Makes Me Feel,” for Diamond Rio; and Top 5 hits “Someone Else’s Dream” and “You Can’t Lose Me,” for Faith Hill.
She’s been a tireless advocate for songwriters for as long as she can remember. “When I was president of the Nashville Songwriters Association (NSAI) in the late ‘70s, Felice and Boudleaux Bryant and Larry Butler paid for a group of us to go to Washington to lobby, as they still do today, to get copyright laws changed,” she said. “While testifying in Congress they actually asked me where songs come from and it was in such a tone, it occurred to me they believed songs just appeared on the radio and that most artists wrote their own hits.
“So I told them, ‘You’re partially right,’ and gave them the analogy that songs come out of the radio just like milk comes out of a carton and that makes us forget the songwriter and the cow who did the work.”
Joking that she’s equally blessed and cursed by active left and right sides of her brain, Bruce did not rest on her songwriting success. By the early ‘80s she was splitting her time between Nashville and Hollywood where she had an office on a Burbank movie lot working as a casting director for movies including Urban Cowboy, in which she and Shari Rhodes and Liz Keighley cast Debra Winger and Scott Glenn to co-star alongside John Travolta. She also established strong relationships with Madison Avenue ad agencies which led to music and voice-over placements. “I guess it never occurred to me that I couldn’t do it,” Bruce says of her fearlessness in pursuing her ideas at a time when women – let alone country songwriters from Tennessee – weren’t competing on an even playing field. “It’s what I continue to mentor to young women today: if you want to do it, go do it! You’ll never succeed simply saying ‘I could never do that.’”
A new decade meant new business ventures for Bruce. She opened Events Unlimited, an international events company, in the early ‘90s and earned Events Magazine’s prestigious Gala Award – the event industry’s premier award – for Best Events Company eight consecutive years. Her client roster included entertainment and corporate heavy-hitters and recalling her most memorable event is easy for Bruce. It was a private corporate event staged in the Super Dome in New Orleans. It involved a team of 1300 who created a 1/3 replica of that city’s famed French Quarters complete with live entertainment by Al Hirt, Fats Domino and the Rolling Stones. “It was the only time I was given – and spent – a $9 million budget in one week!”
After several whirlwind decades of personal and professional success in the entertainment and events industries, Bruce retired. Yet it comes as no real surprise that she didn’t exactly slow down. In 2004 then Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen named the entrepreneur to the Tennessee Board of Parole and Probation, a fulltime state commission. She served on the Board for 12 years.
It was her strong vision for SongBird Tours that put her back on Music Row. She bounced her ideas off of industry friends who agreed she was on to something and methodically put together a team of top bus and lighting designers as well as sound and video engineers. “We’ve tried not to spare any expense to make the customer experience a great one,” Bruce said. “The SongBird bus provides everything you need to enjoy a show in comfort, possibly even more so than some clubs around town. As you can imagine, songwriters are really close to my heart.”
Today Bruce is on the board of victim advocacy group You Have the Power; on the board of Safe Haven Domestic Violence House in Cheatham county; and has just graduated from the current class of Leadership Cheatham County. She is also a proud mother, grandmother and great-grandmother of 17. Asked if she has any hobbies, Bruce just laughs.