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Country: Portraits of an American Sound opens

"Country music is three chords and the truth," according to American songwriter Harlan Howard. Find that and more when Country: Portraits of an American Sound opens at the Annenberg Space for Photography on Saturday, May 31, 2014. Swing on by. Admission is free thru September 28, 2014.

Country:  Portraits of an American Sound
Johnny Cash photo by Leigh Wiener

110 prints of country music stars from Minnie Pearl to Taylor Swift grace the walls. View amateur photographer Elmer Williams' shot of a 12-year-old Brenda Lee at her first Nashville performance in 1957. Willie Nelson is decked out like an insurance salesman and barely recognizable in Walden S. Fabry's early portraits from 1964. Tammy Wynette steals attention, even when she's just hanging out at home in Raeanne Rubeinstein's 1974 photo.

Some photographers had ongoing relationships with their subjects. Leigh Wiener had a creative relationship with Johnny Cash, shooting several album covers including "Here's Johnny Cash Now" (1961), "Hymns from the Heart" (1961), and "The Sound of Johnny Cash" (1960). Wiener's portraits skillfully capture the man in black, like we've never seen him.

Another photographer who chronicled a long relationship with a country singer is Michael Wilson. Examine his series of Lyle Lovett photos, which span many years. Listen to Lovett discuss that inimitable hair in the exhibit's fascinating half-hour accompanying documentary produced by Arclight Productions.

Even the grandchildren make the grade, when David McClister immortalizes Hank Williams' descendants: Holly Williams and Hank Williams, III. McClister's images of Keith Urban in 2012 and Miranda Lambert in 2011 are arresting. He also snaps a moment with an unlikely pair - Alison Krauss and Robert Plant - backstage in Nashville in 2008.

Les Leverett's numerous insightful shots of performers at the Grand Old Opry are on display, too. Check out Loretta Lynn with Sissy Spacek (1979), Merle Haggard singing, and The Bryds in concert (1968). Henry Hornstein snags a second with Dolly Parton at Symphony Hall in Boston in 1972, while Henry Diltz delivers soulful studies of Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris.

Don't miss the short Kenny Rogers documentary. Who knew this successful singer was also an amazing photographer? Rogers promised stars such as Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson that he'd get the shot in 15 minutes, and he always did. Watch what happens when Rogers loosens up Ray Charles by telling him the dirtiest joke he knows.

Duck into the lounge where there's an old fashioned jukebox playing country standards. Scattered around the exhibit is a rhinestone jacket worn by Hank Williams, Jr. and some colorful country western boots that used to belong to Jimmie Rodgers. Savor the rare film clips and album covers, too.

You'll be plumb tuckered out after visiting this country. Yeehaw!

Details: Country: Portraits of An American Sound - free. May 31, 2014 - September 28, 2104. Annenberg Space for Photography. 2000 Avenue of the Stars. Between Olympic and Constellation. Century City. 90067

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