Louisa Nelson Awards

The Louisa Nelson Awards

For Charlie and Andy Nelson, the remarkable first two years since opening Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery has been an unbelievable and exhilarating ride. Their valued voice in Nashville is resonating among the locals and they want to return their gratitude with an in-kind gesture. Such is the genesis of the Louisa Nelson Awards, an annual accolade honoring women of achievement, inspiration, and vision in Nashville who show exemplary successes in their field and leadership in the community. The awards were first bestowed on Monday, September 19, 2016, at a ceremony in The Oak Room at Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery.

"Many know the story of our great-great-great grandfather, Charles Nelson -- the pioneering founder of Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery and the leading producer of Tennessee Whiskey in America in the late 1800s," says Charlie Nelson, "but few know about Louisa, his devoted and hard working wife who assumed control of the family business after his death in 1891, until Prohibition forced her to shutter it in 1909. At the time, she was one of the only women ever to have run a commercial distillery. In addition being a powerful business owner, Louisa Nelson was a woman who refrained from judging others, a characteristic exemplified by her consistent leadership in employing disabled and minorities. Today, her foundation and business model remains a driving force in our own practices, and we named the big copper still that anchors our production floor 'Miss Louisa,' in her honor."

2016 marks the 125-year anniversary of Louisa taking the reins. To commemorate her role in the brand's history, the Nelson brothers have established the Louisa Nelson Awards, given to three Nashville-area business women who embody the characteristics of their ancestor: hard working women excelling in their industries and making a positive impact in their community. 

To celebrate each of them, Nelson's Green Brier Distillery will make a significant donation to a local charity of her choosing.

2016 award recipients

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LEATRICE McKISSACK is a woman of leadership and vision who inspires others. A math major at Fisk University who became a school teacher in Nashville and an active board member, her first contributions to the city were in the classroom and on arts oriented boards, including Cheekwood. When her husband, DeBerry McKissack, had a stroke, she stepped out of retirement into the role of CEO of the oldest black architectural and engineering firm in America-- McKissack & McKissack: a firm based in Nashville. Eventually Mrs. Mckissack would grow the firm 'til it had a portfolio of projects valued at over 50 million dollars and she had inspired her three daughters to enter the business. 

Today her daughters have over 15 billion dollars in projects employing a diverse staff with over 150 employees. Mrs. McKissack integrated the Swan Ball, and has been a major donor to Cheekwood and Fisk University. She has served and inspired to serve. If these were not reason enough--she is a fine and discerning lover of great spirits and was a founding member of the Nashville chapter of the Les Amis d’Escoffier Society founded in NYC in 1936. Mrs. McKissack has taught and inspired generations of Nashvillians who are now doctors, teachers, writers and so much more. Like Louisa, she stepped into the big shoes of her husband, unexpectedly, and walked her way and her company's way to new heights--taking many along with her. Eighty some years young, she's still as smooth sweet and strong as Belle Meade Bourbon.


 As Co-founder/Artistic Director of Actors Bridge Ensemble and Founder of Act Like a GRRRL, VALI FORRISTER has devoted the last 12 years to creating programming and spaces for women and girls to safely find their voices and speak the truths of their lives to build resiliency and hope for a better future. Through Act Like a GRRRL, a writing and performance program she founded in 2005, she has changed the lives of across our city from urban teens to incarcerated adults at the Tennessee Prison for Women. 

Vali is an outspoken advocate for ending violence against women. She is known for her work with cancer survivors. She is a critically acclaimed actor. She is the co-founder and Artistic Director of the Actors Bridge Ensemble, for which she has produced over 90 productions; acted in and directed over 30 of them; and authored six. She founded and directs Act Like A GRRRL, an autobiographical writing and performance program for teenage girls and adult women to gain public voice by articulating their lived experience. Act Like A GRRRL grew out of Ms. Forrister's master's thesis work, and has grown to include a satellite program in Washington, DC, and a pilot program in Bolivia.

Sally Williams, Louisa Nelson Award Winner for Nashville Area Business Women: Nelson's Green Brier Distillery


When you consider what it means to be a successful woman in a male-dominated industry, no other Nashville business woman comes closer to mind than SALLY WILLIAMS. As the General Manager of the Ryman Auditorium, Sally has brought The Ryman to one of the top venues in the country, garnering numerous awards as a top venue/facility as well as being recognized as a national industry executive. She is strong as steel while maintaining a genteel kindness that endears her to anyone who meets her. Nashville is better for her accomplishments and tireless dedication to the community.


Advisory Panel

  • Business journalist turned food writer, Carrington Fox has followed restaurants, food security, and sustainability for Nashville Scene, Southern Living, Food Network, Culture, NFocus, Creative Loafing, Esquire.com, and The Tennessean.
  • Nelson's Green Brier Distillery Co-Proprietor Andy Nelson, a direct descendant of Louisa Nelson, and the head distiller of the family business he has revived with his younger brother, Charlie.
  • Nelson's Green Brier Distillery Co-Proprietor Charlie Nelson, also a great-great-great-grandson of Louisa Nelson, and namesake of Charles Nelson, who travels the country sharing the history and spirits of the company he has proudly re-established with his brother Andy.
  • Civic and social advocate Renata Soto, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Conexion Americas, a nonprofit dedicated to helping Latino families realize their aspirations for social and economic advancement by promoting their integration into the Middle Tennessee community.
  • Emilee Warner, the Marketing Director for CityWinery Nashville and former publicist for popular musicians like Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price, and more.  
  • Technology entrepreneur Marcus Whitney, the President of Jumpstart Foundry, healthcare innovation fund, and CEO and Founder of The Unlikely Company, a public benefit corporation designed to identify the Unlikely Entrepreneurs who will lead the future.