WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton has chosen a leading expert on country music to lead the troubled National Endowment for the Arts.

William J. Ivey, 53, heads the Country Music Foundation in Nashville, Tenn., which runs the Nashville studio where Elvis Presley used to record. It is now a listed as a historic site.

``The NEA is an agency that I care a lot about personally,'' Ivey said Friday. ``It's an honor to be a candidate for that job, and possibly the head of the agency.''

If confirmed by the Senate, Ivey would oversee spending $88 million on the arts this budget year, a sum won in a hard fight with Congress by his predecessor, actress Jane Alexander. The Republican leadership in the House of Representatives had agreed to abolish the agency, sharply criticized by members for subsidizing some art work they considered pornographic.

Ivey has been a member of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. In that job he contributed to a report earlier this year called ``Creative America,'' which recommended that by 2000 the federal government spend $2 per citizen a year on the arts and humanities.

That could amount to well over $500 million, in addition to about $300 million spent by state arts agencies and as much as $700 million by nearly 4,000 groups sponsored by local governments. Advocates of the arts point out that European governments spend much more, relative to their population.

``My experience in actually running an arts organization and my work with many different kinds of music _ a full range of styles and genres _ and also my training in folklore, will all combine to serve me well,'' Ivey said.

He has headed the Nashville foundation for more than 25 years and has taught at both Brooklyn College and Vanderbilt University.

Ivey is known in Washington for his advocacy of preserving historical recordings of classical and popular music.

Ivey is a Detroit native with a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Michigan and a master's degree in folklore and ethnomusicology from Indiana University.

An amateur guitarist and songwriter, he has served on the board of the American Folklore Society.