Acclaimed Nashville Photographer Raeanne Rubenstein Passes

Famed celebrity photographer Raeanne Rubenstein died in Nashville on Saturday (Nov. 30) at age 74.

During her colorful, six-decade career, Rubenstein photographed everyone from Mick Jagger to Johnny Cash, from Bob Dylan to Dolly Parton. She published more than 10 books, was exhibited internationally, created album jackets and posters, founded magazines, made films and was published in dozens of periodicals.

Her photo books include essays on the world of pro-wrestling and surveys of the New York rock world, as well as Honky Tonk Heroes (1975) and Gone Country (1997).

Rubenstein’s work has been exhibited in Dublin, London, Los Angeles, New York and Nashville. She has been published in Life, People, Rolling Stone, Time and The Village Voice, among many other publications.

Born in Staten Island, NY, Rubenstein graduated with honors from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. She studied photography at the Annenberg School and began her professional career as a fashion photographer in London.

In the 1960s, she settled on the Lower East Side in Manhattan. Andy Warhol took her under his wing, and she photographed the “superstars” at his Factory venue. She haunted rock clubs, poetry readings, theatrical performances and other events. During this era, she also co-founded Warhol’s magazine Interview.

Nashville’s Bonnie Garner, then also a New Yorker, arranged for Rubenstein to have permanent access to The Fillmore East concert venue. The photographer thus documented Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Lou Reed, Kiss, Pink Floyd, Leon Russell, Joe Cocker, Cameo, The MC5 and other major rock acts of the day.

Her star rose rapidly in the 1970s and 1980s. Diminutive, yet plucky, feisty and determined, she made her way through the competitive Manhattan media world. Magazine work trained her camera on the likes of Muhammed Ali, Abbie Hoffman, Rodney Dangerfield, The Beatles and Dustin Hoffman, among others.

Rubenstein first visited Nashville in 1975 and fell in love with the personalities in country music.

She subsequently photographed a who’s-who of the genre, including such Country Music Hall of Fame members as Loretta Lynn, Roy Acuff, Garth Brooks, Porter Wagoner, Alan Jackson, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Buck Owens, Kris Kristofferson, Charley Pride, Kitty Wells, Merle Haggard, Brenda Lee, Vince Gill, George Jones, Conway Twitty, The Oak Ridge Boys, Emmylou Harris, Roger Miller, Glen Campbell, Brooks & Dunn, Reba McEntire, Alabama, Eddy Arnold, Chet Atkins, Mel Tillis, Tammy Wynette, George Strait and Randy Travis.

Rubenstein’s photographs usually pictured these iconic figures in unexpected, informal and extemporaneous situations, rather than in formal portraits. Her innovative, eye-catching work led to her renown.

She moved to Nashville in 1998. She founded the online, woman-oriented magazine Dish the following year.

Her 1999 book Gone Country: Portraits of Country Music’s New Stars featured 150 artists, including Wynonna, Steve Earle, Martina McBride, Shania Twain, Dwight Yoakam, Tim McGraw, Toby Keith, Faith Hill, K.T. Oslin, LeAnn Rimes, Billy Ray Cyrus, Steve Wariner, Pam Tillis, Travis Tritt, Rodney Crowell and John Anderson.

In 2009, Rubenstein enrolled in Watkins Film School. During the next few years, she produced, directed and photographed 10 short movies, several of which won awards at film festivals.

The Frist Art Museum featured the photographer in a discussion and photo showing in 2011 that focused on her early work. It was titled “Andy, the Factory and Me.” In 2013, she mounted her “Jewish Comedians” exhibit at the Gordon Jewish Community Center. She was a celebrity speaker at other venues.

A national tour of her Nashville photographs was launched following an exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame. After “Country: Portraits of an American Sound” was installed at the Annenberg Space for Photography in L.A. in 2014, Rubenstein was profiled on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and in the pages of Sports & Entertainment Nashville, among other outlets.

Her photo archive has since been acquired by the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum. A number of her images were used in the Ken Burns Country Music documentary miniseries on PBS in 2019.

Raeanne Rubenstein suffered from Alzheimer’s in recent years. A respiratory infection reportedly led to her death on Nov. 30. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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