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Color Radio: The Found Photos Of DJ Tommy Edwards

From 1955 to 1960, a Cleveland DJ named Tommy Edwards had the bright idea to snap photos of folks who came through his studio. Credited by some as being the first to recognize and promote Elvis, for example, Edwards had a sixth sense for what would one day be important. Maybe he knew that those photos would become among the most comprehensive color records of the early rock 'n' roll culture. Or maybe not.

Either way, Edwards fastidiously captured candid moments on Ektachrome slide film. His collection included a young Elvis Presley, a pre-shades Roy Orbison, and Johnny Cash at 25 — as well as pop stars and Hollywood hopefuls. After Edwards' death in 1981, the photos all but disappeared from memory — until recently.

"It was like in the movies, when the treasure hunter's shovel suddenly hits something hard," says Christopher Kennedy, recalling the moment when he first saw Edwards' photos. A musician himself and music-history buff, Kennedy reached out to Edwards' nephew, who discovered the entire stash of photos in his basement.

"It was an amazing experience for me, when I traveled from New York to Wisconsin to see the collection for the first time — hundreds of ... slides projected onto Tommy Edwards' nephew's basement wall," Kennedy recalls.

He almost immediately got to work on a book. It's a small but tidy slice of Americana — an endearing portrait of our rock 'n' roll legends in their youth. "It was cool and thrilling to be able to breathe life back into a lost piece of history," Kennedy says.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland will be curating a Tommy Edwards photo exhibit from January to May of next year.

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Claire O'Neill