The International Bluegrass Music Museum in downtown Owensboro, Ky is currently hosting an exhibit featuring the work of famed music photographer, Les Leverett.
Unveiled during ROMP this past June 2014, the exhibit showcases dozens of incredible photographs taken during Leverett’s long career as a bluegrass music photographer. Over the years, Leverett has secured his reputation as Nashville’s premier music photographer by photographing everything from record album covers to scenes of the Opry backstage. His photo archive is among the most extensive in the business, and his clients range from Life magazine to The Nashville Network, from American Heritage, to the Grand Ole Opry. Yet Leverett has always had a special place in his heart for bluegrass, ever since the days when his office was in the old National Life building, and he stood outside the window of the WSM studio to watch Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs sell Martha White flour. His sense of history, his passion for bluegrass, and his consummate skill with a camera made it only natural that he be honored with an exhibit by the International Bluegrass Music Museum.
Leverett searched through thousands of negatives, proofs and images of his collection to find the photographs which are featured in the exhibit. After creating a list of artists he had documented through the years, he began the process of finding the photographs he wanted to print. The exhibit gave Leverett the opportunity to print pictures he personally enjoyed, a chance he seldom was given as a commercial photographer.
Leverett’s admiration of bluegrass music started at an early age and is still strong in his heart today.
“I just love bluegrass music,” he said. “On Wednesday nights I attend a prayer service and love when the music director pulls out an old bluegrass gospel tune. I really love it.”
There are many “first additions” in the collection as well as other images that may be familiar to bluegrass music fans.
IBMM curator RaShae Jennings expressed the uniqueness of Leverett’s work, “His photographs are quite beautiful, and capture moments that words can’t express. There are lighter moments of the artists backstage, in diners…things you don’t see in the usual pictures of them performing.”
“We tried to avoid a constant stream of bands performing in front of microphones; Les knows better than anyone else that this is only part of the bluegrass scene, and that shots made backstage, at festivals, at recording or radio sessions, eating at roadside restaurants, or talking with fans are as revealing as the more glamorous ones.
Students of motion pictures speak of the “auteur” — the artist who is able to work within the commercial industry and at the same time express his own imagination and vision. There is no better way to define the work of a man whose vision has for over three decades enhanced the dignity and beauty of bluegrass music — Les Leverett.” –Charles K. Wolfe (late Professor of English, music historian, and author of “Grand Ole Opry: The Early Years,” “Tennessee Strings,” “Kentucky Country,” and an abundance of similarly important books, articles, reviews, and notes on music in American Culture.
After being discharged from the Army in 1947, Leverett enrolled in The Texas College of Photographic Art in San Antonio. His interest in photography had been sparked partly because of a pair of Civil War binoculars owned by his father. Leverett often “borrowed” the lenses from these binoculars and projected self-drawn “comic strips” from his home-made projector onto the bedroom shades.
He began his career working for Associated Photographers in Nashville. Shortly after the business shut down, Leverett started a career as a photographer for National Life and Accident Insurance Company. During this time he fused his career with work for WSM-TV as well as the Grand Ole Opry, which eventually led to his long time work with the Opry which spanned 32 years.
Leverett’s photographs have appeared on hundreds of album covers, in many books, magazines, newspapers and videos. Special honors include a Grammy award for best album cover photography in 1966 for Porter Wagoner’s album, “Confessions of a Broken Man”; and Billboard Magazine’s Best Country Cover award in 1973 for Dolly Parton’s album, “Bubblin’ Over.”
Leverett was inducted into Opryland’s National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences’ “Walkway of Stars” in June, 1994.
For information on viewing this exhibit at the International Bluegrass Music Museum, go to www.bluegrassmuseum.org.
Support the International Bluegrass Music Museum and have a wonderful weekend June 25-28 at beautiful Yellow Creek Park in Owensboro!
Go to rompfest.com for line-up, camping info and tickets.
Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer ROMP articles:
(Thanks to M&I for opening these articles about ROMP up to the public – no subscription required)
Thursday: Campers are ready to ROMP
Friday: A laid-back affair
Saturday: Skaggs, fans love old-time bluegrass
Tuesday July 1: ROMP crowd likely topped 20,000 for third year
Tuesday July 1: The People of ROMP (video)
Related articles requiring a M&I subscription:
Saturday: Bluegrass center final design unveiled
The long-awaited premiere of a powerful new documentary produced by the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, KY takes place at 9:00 PM EDT on Tuesday, June 10, 2014 on Kentucky Educational Television.
POWERFUL: Bill Monroe Remembered tells the poignant, riveting story of Ohio County, KY native Bill Monroe, Father of Bluegrass Music, through the remembrances of dozens of his “Blue Grass Boys,” the name given to the 161 sidemen and women who, at various times, were members of his band from the 1940s until his death in 1996.
Portions of this documentary were first shown at the museum’s Bill Monroe Centennial Celebration on the anniversary of Monroe’s 100 birthday, September 13, 2011. Prominent bluegrass musician Pete Wernick, a/k/a Dr. Banjo, attended the celebration and wrote this description of POWERFUL for the bluegrass community:
“The movie “Powerful“, about Bill Monroe, made its debut right on Bill’s 100th birthday, and it is a truly awesome and amazing piece of work. The meat of the 2-hour film is beautifully shot and edited stories from his stunning cavalcade of sidemen… including Earl Scruggs, Jimmy Martin, Bobby Hicks, Jack Hicks, George Shumate, Peter Rowan, Del McCoury, Byron Berline, Glen Duncan, Bill Keith, James Monroe, Lamar Grier, and on and on.
“These men were at their ease, very-well recorded, telling it like it was, and the subject matter and editing makes the time just fly by, as a deep and rich portrait emerges of the cross-eyed child who could lift a 1000 pound log, kick a mule in the jaw with “the sound of an exploding watermelon”, scare the devil out of his musicians, and melt your heart with a kind word or act, or soulful song.
“This movie, by Joe Gray of Louisville, KY, is no less than a masterpiece in my opinion, with very high cinematic values, deeply insightful, and beautifully woven — probably the best movie ever about bluegrass.”
POWERFUL actually had its genesis as far back as 2003. In September of that year, in a clearly time-dated and historically impactful project, the International Bluegrass Music Museum launched its Video Oral History Project to professionally record the histories of the living members of bluegrass music’s 1st and early 2nd generations. In so doing, the museum created an archive of a vastly under-documented segment of our nation’s cultural heritage by filming in-depth, first person interviews conducted by knowledgeable historians. Many of the interviews were augmented with concert footage.
Midway through the Video Oral History Project’s process, it became apparent that the Blue Grass Boys’ remembrances about Bill Monroe had not been captured for posterity and would be lost forever if immediate action was not taken to record their histories. This loss would have been a travesty, since “bluegrass” is one of a scant handful of original American music genres, and as such, is an integral part of our nation’s cultural heritage. The pioneering members of the genre contributed to the shaping of the sound and its popularity in lands far and wide. Their influence on acoustic music in the 20th Century has since led to the establishment of bluegrass communities throughout North America, Japan, Europe, Russia, Australia, and elsewhere. This worldwide bluegrass community is currently estimated in the tens of millions and growing exponentially as the genre opens wide to its roots and branches.
The museum therefore set out to create a definitive document that would tell Mr. Monroe’s story in a way in which it had never before been told. POWERFUL: Bill Monroe Remembered, takes the viewer back to the early days of bluegrass music through the stories of those who lived it. What emerges is a powerful and enduring portrait of one of America’s most important musical creators.
After its premiere on KET, the International Bluegrass Music Museum will show POWERFUL: Bill Monroe Remembered on each day of its upcoming festival, ROMP, June 25-26-27-28.
See KET schedule info for Powerful: Bill Monroe Remembered including rebroadcast of this special at other times.
For more information, call 888 MY BANJO.
This includes the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro.
FRANKFORT, Ky. — Thirteen Kentucky museums will offer free admission to active military members and their families this summer as part of the Blue Star Museums initiative.
A collaboration of the Department of Defense, the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families and thousands of museums nationwide, the Blue Star Museum program was started five years ago as a military appreciation effort aimed at connecting military families to cultural resources in communities where they’ve moved or are based.
“The Blue Star Museum initiative is a special way for Kentucky military personnel to spend time with their friends or family in a unique setting,” said Lori Meadows, arts council executive director. “The growing list of participating museums provides a chance for visitors to explore not only fine art but also music, science and local history in the Commonwealth.”
Currently, participating Blue Star Museums in Kentucky are:
- Kentucky Museum, Bowling Green
- Eloise B. Houchens Center, Bowling Green
- Historic RailPark & Train Museum, Bowling Green
- Behringer-Crawford Museum, Covington
- Aviation Museum of Kentucky, Lexington
- Frazier History Museum, Louisville
- Historic Locust Grove, Louisville
- Muhammad Ali Center, Louisville
- Kentucky Gateway Museum Center, Maysville
- International Bluegrass Music Museum, Owensboro
- Owensboro Museum of Science and History, Owensboro
- Hopewell Museum, Paris
- East Kentucky Science Center, Prestonsburg
The official window for free admission at Blue Star Museums runs from Memorial Day, May 26, through Labor Day, Sept. 1.
For information about Kentucky’s participation in Blue Star Museums, see the Arts Council announcement.
Thanks to Samson Grisman for curating our Winter/Spring 2014 Concert Series this season. And huge thanks to the following bands for bringing their talent to the museum’s devoted audiences:
January 12, Colin O’Brien
January 24, Vickie Vaughn Band
February 7, Head for the Hills
February 24, Foghorn String Band
March 16, Don Stiernberg Trio
April 17, Bradford Lee Folk and the Bluegrass Playboys
May 2, Missy Raines Band
May 22, Scott Simontacchi