A black and white photo by famous photographer Bob Willoughby that shows Big Jay McNeely driving the crowd into a frenzy during a show at Olympic Stadium in Los Angles CA circa 1951
Big Jay McNeely driving the crowd into a frenzy, Olympic Stadium, Los Angles, CA, 1951; modern print, ink on paper. Photos courtesy Elliott Gallery/The Bob Willoughby Photo Archive

On Exhibit: ‘Shutter and Sound’ at the West Baton Rouge Museum

In the 1950s, jazz icons like Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong were creating tunes that would make them some of the most famous names in music. Meanwhile, soon-to-be famous photographer, Bob Willoughby, was capturing those history-making moments at their live performances.

Though it is impossible to experience firsthand what Willoughby captured all of those years ago, the West Baton Rouge Museum’s new exhibition “Shutter and Sound: The Jazz Photography of Bob Willoughby” aims to transport viewers back in time so they can be face-to-face with some of the greatest jazz musicians of all time.

“We like to start the new year with some sort of nostalgic exhibit, and black and white photography really does the trick because it is just so provocative and glamorous,” says West Baton Rouge Museum curator of collections Lauren Hawthorne.

Ella Fitzgerald at the Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA, 1950; modern print, ink on paper

Willoughby would go to jazz venues and photograph musicians while they played. He eventually became best known for his candid shots of Hollywood actors and musicians. In the museum’s Whitehead Gallery from January 27 to March 17, the exhibit will feature enlarged versions of Willoughby’s star-studded photos featuring everyone from Fitzgerald and Armstrong to Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck and Frank Sinatra.

Willoughby’s photos capture the raw emotions of the musicians because he opted to photograph them during performances, rather than in posed settings. The black-and-white images showcase the passion of each of these stars and serves to help a whole new generation understand and appreciate their lasting legacies.

“My favorite part of the exhibit is seeing the musicians doing what they do. All of the pictures are candid, and I just love that,” says Hawthorne. “If you’re into jazz music or just celebrities from the past, then this exhibit will be exciting to see.”

For more information on the exhibit, visit westbatonrougemuseum.org.