Les Leverett, widely seen as the most notable photographer in the history of country music, died last Friday in Nashville last Friday (2) at 96.
Leverett captured classic images of great artists such as Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley in their early days, as well as Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Bill Monroe, through to Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks, and countless others. As well as being staff photographer at the Grand Ole Opry for 32 years, he took cover photographs for some 200 country album releases. “The Opry lost a great photographer and friend today,” posted the famous country institution. “Les Leverett captured much of the Opry’s history, onstage and backstage. Les, your work will live on forever.”
Leverett won a Grammy Award for his cover photo for Porter Wagoner’s 1966 album Confession of a Broken Man, and a Billboard Award for his cover for Dolly Parton’s 1973 LP Bubbling Over, from an image taken near the fountain at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Some 80 of the photographer’s images, from the Opry and elsewhere, appeared in Ken Burns’ eight-part, 16-hour film Country Music, which Leverett regarded as a career high point.
He was born in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1927 and developed his love for country music while at photography school after World War II in San Antonio on the G.I. Bill. Moving to Music City, he first worked as an advertising and portrait photographer, then in the first half of the 1950s for Nashville’s Associated Photographers before joining the Opry in 1960. There, Leverett took images of almost every major and emerging country music talent, forming a close association with many. He won a Distinguished Achievement Award from the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA).
Leverett’s photographic archive now resides at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum. He published two books, Blue Moon of Kentucky: Bluegrass Chronicles of Les Leverett and American Music Legends; his daughter Libby Leverett-Crew’s memoir Saturday Nights with Daddy at the Opry, featuring many of his photos, was published in 2003.