Nashville, Tennessee
Contemporary Art Gallery

237 Rep. John Lewis Way N. 37219
Tuesday–Saturday 10:00 a.m. — 5:00 p.m.







Alan L. Mayor could capture a moment like no other photographer on Music Row. This first-ever retrospective of his work in his adopted hometown of Nashville is a testament to that ability. Through this exhibition, we’re transported to an era where the traditions of country music were changing, future legends were just starting to get a foothold in the industry, and artists relied on professional photographers to share their lives with fans.

From the 1970s, Alan established himself on Music Row as the go-to photojournalist of the Nashville music industry. Whether he was taking photos at Exit/In or grabbing candid shots backstage at Fan Fair, Alan had a gift for color and composition. One night, he might be documenting an unguarded moment that nobody else would have noticed. The next night, he might be taking photographs of Billy Ray Cyrus being mobbed by fans or Garth Brooks gliding over an arena audience. Remarkably, decades later, Alan’s photos can still carry us back to those moments, making us feel as if we were there, too.

Alan Leslie Mayor was born on August 21, 1949, in Belleville, Illinois. His father’s 24-year Air Force career took the family all over the United States. In 1966, Colonel Mayor retired from the Air Force and landed a permanent civilian post at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, right on the Kentucky/Tennessee border, nine miles from Clarksville, Tennessee. Clarksville soon became the permanent home for the Mayor family.

As a student at Austin Peay State University, Alan majored in philosophy, English, and theater but also worked on the staff of the college newspaper as their photographer, documenting all things happening on campus. After his graduation in 1971, he made his way 47.5 miles south to Nashville, never looking back. He’d been shooting family photos there on many outings, so he knew the area well.

Nashville was quickly evolving, and Alan was one of many in an unruly crowd attracted to being a part of it. He landed a job with a local photographer and freelanced when possible. Within a few years, he witnessed the Outlaw era of country music firsthand, as evidenced by many of the photos in this exhibition. In time, his photo subjects included Alan Jackson, Dolly Parton, Randy Travis, and others, well before they became country superstars. Mayor wisely held on to his copyrights, making this exhibition possible.

In 1999, Mayor published his only collection of photos, titled The Nashville Family Album, A Country Music Scrapbook. His many clients included The Tennessean and Nashville Banner newspapers, as well as ASCAP, BMI, Peer International, SESAC, Mercury Records, Capitol Records, Curb Records, Sony Music, DreamWorks, and MCA Records. He also shot photos for Billboard, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Ryman Auditorium, the Grand Ole Opry, Music Row, People Magazine, Acuff/Rose Music, The Jewish Federation, and numerous fan magazines. In addition, he donated many volunteer hours to the TJ Martell Foundation, St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and the Liver Foundation. 

As nostalgic locals who view this exhibit will attest, Alan lived and worked in Nashville at a great time. Although he kept a crazy schedule, he remained an avid fisherman and camper—though he always had his camera handy to snap photos of nature and family. As a brother, son, and friend, he was just Alan, who was full of stories of his many experiences on Music Row. And if you knew Alan, you know he loved his pet cats. He passed away on February 22, 2015.

︎︎︎ View exhibition list