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Journal / Art

Alan L. Mayor: A Nashville Retrospective

If you hang around some locals, you might hear the phrases “Old Nashville” and “New Nashville.” There’s no real clear agreement on what constitutes Old Nashville. Some people might date it before 1997, when the Opryland amusement park closed. Others might say pre-1999, when the Titans moved to town and a new stadium was built. Others might cite 2010 and the flood that reshaped the development landscape as the turning point. Whatever their criteria, they’re likely to count Alan L. Mayor as Old Nashville.

Mayor, who grew up in nearby Clarksville, was the go-to photojournalist for the music industry starting in the 1970s. He was the person who captured famous faces, including Dolly Parton, Tanya Tucker and Garth Brooks, many of whom were not famous yet. He was so integral to chronicling Nashville’s Music City scene his work was included in Ken Burns “Country Music” PBS series.

But for all his significance, the work of Mayor, who passed away in 2015 has not been presented in a retrospective. Until now. “The Collection: Alan L. Mayor: A Nashville Retrospective 1974 – 1999” opens at the Bobby Hotel on Sept. 6, an effort of Bobby Nashville, Tinney Contemporary (which curates art exhibits at the hotel), the Alan L. Mayor Estate, Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), and the Americana Music Association (AMA).

Theresa Mayor-Smith, Alan L. Mayor’s sister and his estate holder, arranged for MTSU to be the archivist of more than 100,000 Mayor’s works, a collection Olivia Beaudry, the archivist at the Center for Popular Music at MTSU, says she hasn’t yet been able to explore completely. The collection is available for use by researchers, but is not on display for the public, making this solo show at the Bobby even more significant.

Mayor-Smith was proud of her brother’s talents and after he passed was passionate about finding a home where his work would be preserved and was thrilled when industry professionals pointed her to the Center for Popular Music at MTSU and thrilled that a conversation Beaudry had with AMA’s Craig Shelburne lead to the show at the Bobby. “This is big and really an honor for our family,” she says.

There are 63 prints in the exhibit, documenting Willie Nelson, John Prine, Charlie Daniels, George Jones and others, as well as iconic venues, such as Exit/In. “Whittling it down was kind of hard. I think if we did not have Joshua [Edward Bennett, gallery manager for Tinney Contemporary] we would have quit. Through them you can see the city changing and the industry changing, Beaudry says.

“The Collection: Alan L. Mayor: A Nashville Retrospective 1974 – 1999” runs through February 2024.