Alan Copeland was as much of an artist as a musician. Often seen with a camera around his neck at concerts throughout Memphis, Copeland’s photographs, largely taken between 1965 and 1990, show a love for music and the men and women who made it. The Stax Museum now holds the entire Alan Copeland Collection that includes thousands of photographs on Ektachrome slides and 35mm film.
Copeland was an accomplished drummer. He played with the Poor Little Rich Kids, who recorded a single on HIP, a Stax Records subsidiary, in early 1968. His photographs of the Stax offices and control room are some of the most intimate and unique interior images of the original studio held by the Stax Museum. After serving in the Army, Copeland returned to Memphis and his drums, playing for Jerry Lee Lewis; Canyon, a local country band; and the popular nightclub band, the Memphis Hurricanes.
One of Copeland’s striking photo shoots was at the July 4, 1971 concert at Overton Park bandshell headlined by Deep Purple. Copeland circled the Shell with his cameras, finding desired vantage points from behind and alongside the stage and among the massive crowd. Copeland’s work has the elements and charm of a professional photographer, yet a kind swagger that highlights his personal affection for the subjects and the music they made..
Included in the collection are photographs of local musicians such as Booker T. and the MG’s, The Memphis Horns, Prince Gabe, and Ma Rainey II. Copeland also captured touring acts such as Buffalo Springfield, Albert King, The Allman Brothers Band, and Deep Purple at the Overton Park Shell, the Mid-South Coliseum, Club Paradise, and Mud Island.
The Stax Museum thanks Suzanne Copeland for the donation of her husband’s work following his untimely passing in early 2022. This exhibition is possible due to her generosity.
Collections Manager Leila Hamdan chose a group of slides and film strips to be digitized while she processed the collection for the museum. "Most of the slides and strips were not labeled so I spent quite a bit of time using my creative method to discern the artists and locations. There are quite a few exciting sub-collections", according to Hamdan, "such as the series of photographs taken of Beale Street in 1977 in the daylight, dynamic promotional shots of The Millionaires who performed with Prince Gabe, as well as, a set from Club Paradise featuring the late Albert King and includes cameos of the famed Memphis culture maker and entrepreneur Sunbeam Mitchell. "There is one black and white portrait of two women at work on that day. I was hopeful it was Earnestine and Hazel, however, I have not been able to confirm their identities, yet. Though I am confident I will find out one day. Perhaps what is most exciting to me about this entire collection is how undeniably cool it is and how utterly Memphis."