Les Leverett exhibit
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, 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.