Veteran music industry photographer Alan Mayor passed away overnight. He was 65. For five decades, he was the go-to photographer for Nashville’s top artists, publicists and labels. He photographed the Grand Ole Opry, numerous concerts, No. 1 parties, songwriter events and more.
He was a longtime contributor to MusicRow magazine, having joined the masthead of the music trade publication in December 1984 and continuing his work with the magazine until his health declined in recent years.
Mayor chronicled his career with the 2000 release of The Nashville Family Album: A Country Music Scrapbook. He also contributed to Mary Bufwack and Robert K. Oermann’s Finding Her Voice: Women in Country Music, and Barry McCloud’s Definitive Country: The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Country Music, among many other books.
Mayor photographed countless country stars, and had a particularly close relationship with Garth Brooks. “Seeing Alan Mayor at an event brought a comfort to artists like few photographers could do. That speaks volumes for him as a human being,” Brooks told MusicRow when notified of his passing. “Seeing unbelievable photos from an event you didn’t know Alan Mayor was at, speaks volumes for him as a professional.”
Longtime friend and colleague Oermann says, “Alan was so good at what he did. Of all the freelance photographers, he was absolutely the best. Whenever I went into a press room, I made it a point to hang with him. He had the best attitude and was so kind. In the press corp he was somebody you could always count on. I’ll miss him terribly.”
Alan Leslie Mayor was born August 21, 1949. With a father in the Air Force, his family moved frequently before settling in Clarksville, Tennessee in 1966. He attended Austin Peay State University where he was staff photographer and graduated with degrees in theater, English and philosophy. When one of his college professors was hired as the first musical director of Opryland, Mayor eventually joined him as a stage manager at the park in 1973.
Mayor initially moved to Nashville to be a songwriter. When recounting his early days in Music City, he recalled buying an Alverez guitar at Cotten Music from a young Paul Worley. “I write songs like everybody else in this town, but I wasn’t about to pull out a guitar in front of these stars,” Mayor said in a 1985 interview with Oermann. “So I pulled out another instrument, a camera.”
Indeed, in 1973 he decided to focus on photography. When Opryland flooded in 1974, his photograph of the damage was used on the front page of fan publication Music City News—after dabbling in sports and advertising photography, this was his entrée into the world of music. His first exhibit was at Mill’s Bookstore in Nashville and his first paying gig was when MGM Records hired him for a Hank Williams Jr. photo shoot. Soon after, Mercury Records hired him and work with Reba McEntire, The Statler Brothers, and Jerry Lee Lewis followed. In 1975, his photograph of Linda and Paul McCartney backstage at the Opry was published in The Tennessean.
His career thrived for more than thirty years.
In March 2007, Mayor was diagnosed with cirrhosis and given six months to live. He underwent a liver transplant and survived. Iconic BMI leader Frances Preston helped him secure treatment at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where her name graces a lab at the cancer center.
“I wasn’t going out without a fight,” he wrote in an unreleased memoir chronicling the experience. “I now understood why I had been blessed with a few more years on this earth. That purpose is to do what I can to make a difference. I have a story to tell—warts and all. I know I can make a difference, simply by living and sharing my experience. Maybe I can help others who are going through what I’ve gone through with a little bit of hope. Maybe I can help them know that they should never give up, and with God’s grace and the power of lasting friendships, they will make it, no matter whatever anyone else says. Life is a gift. It is our choice live it.”
In recent months he had suffered a series of strokes, and was living in a Clarksville rehabilitation center. Even yesterday before he died, he wanted to continue the work he loved, and asked his sister to deliver his camera and laptop.
He is preceded in death by mother Rosemary Fulmer Mayor and father Lt. Col Albert Mayor Jr. USAF. He is survived by sister Theresa Mayor Smith (Lee) and brother Kenneth Albert Mayor. A private family service will be held, with a public memorial to follow at a later date.