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History-Making Photographer Dies At Age 88

History-Making Photographer Dies At Age 88

CREATED Feb 5, 2014

by Marcus Washington 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessean's first African American full-time photographer, Billy Easley, has died at the age of 88.

For many of us, we often tell stories with words, but for a chosen few, like Billy Easley, their stories are told as they capture one moment that said it all.

"Billy started out in the lab. Back then most photographers started out in the lab and worked his way up to a shooter," said former Tennessean photographer and friend Richard Rogers.

Rogers and current photographer George Walker, IV, remember the legacy Easley has left behind.

Late last week, Easley died from heart failure at the age of 88.

Walker said he remembers the first time he met the man that paved the path he didn't know he would actually walk.

"He spoke at MTSU where I was a student and I made a point to go up and introduce myself and to try to get to know him and said, 'what can I do to become a photographer at the Tennessean,'" said Walker.

During a time of racial division, then Tennessean editor John Seigenthaler hired Easley, who would become the first black full-time photographer for newspaper.

From the 1960s to the early 90s, Easley captured the history of Nashville -- sports, civil rights, political and even religious moments. What would a collection from a Music City photographer be without musical legends Luther Vandross, Loretta Lynn and Gene Simmons of the band KISS?

"Without Billy I don't know if I would be here or if Freedom Ramsey, who was another photographer before me, would be here," said Walker.

The pictures are what we look at, but for those who worked or looked up to him, it's his presence and personality they remember.

"When you think of Billy you think of his infectious laugh," said Walker.

"Always laughed, always had a lot fun. He loved shooting and loved meeting people, " Rogers said.

Easley has left behind a legacy that many will continue to carry and capture for generations to come.

"It's a heavy burden to carry, but it's definitely worth carrying," said Walker.

A public viewing of Easley is scheduled for Thursday from 1 p.m. until 7 p.m. at Woodlawn- Roesch-Patton Funeral Home, 660 Thompson Lane. Another visitation will be held at Lawrence Avenue Church of Christ at 904 Lawrence Avenue in Nashville on Friday from 11 a.m. until the funeral services at noon.

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