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See What Les Leverett’s Grand Ole Opry Camera Saw for 32 Years
By Tom Adkinson

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – For 32 of Les Leverett’s 91 years, the quiet and unassuming photographer got to know and photograph the stars of the Grand Ole Opry, plus the hundreds of other entertainment luminaries who visited the famous radio show, even including soul singer James Brown.

roy acuff house
The Opry’s parent company built this house adjacent to the Grand Ole Opry House for the widowed Roy Acuff -- Image by Tom Adkinson

He documented practically all of them, back when cameras used film, and for at least a little while, you can enjoy some of Leverett’s photos in a special exhibition right next to the Grand Ole Opry House.

“Family Reunion: The Opry Photo Album 1960-1992” continues through Oct. 31 in the Acuff House, which the Opry’s parent company built for Roy Acuff, the King of Country Music, after Acuff’s wife died. In Acuff’s decade of residence there, he used to say he enjoyed the fact he could walk to work.

Now, the main floor of the Acuff House is devoted to Leverett’s photos, images that will make you smile with good memories if you lived in the years they were taken or help you gain a new perspective on those years if you’re a newcomer to the world of country music. The Grand Ole Opry Archives acquired Leverett’s collection in 2017, and the Acuff House exhibit is the first display from that acquisition.

roy acuff and les leverett
Les Leverett had another photographer capture this image of him with Opry luminary Roy Acuff -- Image by Tom Adkinson

Just name a classic country entertainer, and Leverett photographed him or her. Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, Grandpa Jones, Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn, Dottie West, Willie Nelson, Jeannie Seely – the list seems endless.

acuff house wall
Wall after wall in the Acuff House is filled with images Les Leverett took of legends of the Grand Ole Opry. Image by Tom Adkinson. -- Image by Tom Adkinson

He was a master at portraiture (there’s a priceless image of a clean-shaven Willie Nelson in the exhibit), dressing room candids and onstage performance. He also had a great sense for news. An example was when Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton were performing at an outdoor theater at the Opryland theme park. Leverett saw a famous face in the audience and documented the fact Paul McCartney saw that show.

porter wagoner
Les Leverett won a Grammy Award for this album cover of Porter Wagoner’s “Confessions of a Broken Man.” - Image by Tom Adkinson

emmylou harris
Casual scenes, such as this one of Emmylou Harris and Grandpa Jones, are among Les Leverett’s favorites - Image by Tom Adkinson

Leverett was as much a part of the Nashville music scene as any performer, although his instrument was a camera rather than a guitar, and he has a Grammy Award to prove it. He won a Grammy for an album cover he shot for Porter Wagoner’s “Confessions of a Broken Man.” It was one of more than 200 album covers he shot.

“(Les Leverett) was to country music what Mathew Brady was to Abraham Lincoln and the War Between the States,” Opry member Marty Stuart, himself an accomplished photographer, told one Nashville reporter.

A video that Stuart narrates tells Leverett’s career story and is one of the highlights of the “Family Reunion” exhibit. It provides context, personal insight and touching emotion to the photos displayed around the house the King of Country Music used to call home.

Trip-planning resources: Check the “Backstage Tours” link at

Published August 10, 2018

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