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Irene Beasley papers

 Collection 0139-MMC-LAB
Irene Beasley (1904-1980) was a composer, singer, and radio personality nicknamed "the long, tall gal from Dixie." Beasley is best known for Grand Slam, her long-running musical quiz show which was broadcast from 1943 to 1953. Grand Slam was conceived, written, designed, produced, and emceed by Beasley. The collection documents Irene Beasley's broadcasting and singing career.

Dates

  • 1908-1978
  • Majority of material found within 1930-1953

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open to the public and must be used in the Special Collections reading room. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

This collection contains audiovisual materials. Items that cannot be used in the Special Collections reading room or are too fragile for researchers require that a digital copy be made prior to use. If you would like to access these materials, please contact us prior to your visit.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.

Extent

3.33 Linear Feet

Scope and Content of Collection

The Irene Beasley Papers spans the years 1908 to 1978, with the bulk of the material dating from 1930 to 1953. The collection, which documents Irene Beasley's singing career, contains photographs, publicity, business records, correspondence, promotional material, 78 rpm records, sheet music, and some miscellaneous material.

Biography

Elizabeth Irene Beasley (1904-1980), known as Irene Beasley, American composer, singer, and radio personality, was born in 1904 in Whitehaven, Tennessee. Her family moved to Amarillo, Texas, when Irene was six years old. Beasley spent summers with her maternal grandmother in Plum Point, Mississippi. It was her grandmother Holmes who gave Beasley her first piano lessons and stimulated Beasley's lifelong love of music. Her mother died when Beasley was twelve years old, and she became close to her grandparents and aunt and uncle in Memphis, Tennessee. Though her father, James Neel Beasley, was a modest planter when Beasley was born, he became a wealthy grain and oil man in Amarillo.

Irene Beasley attended Sweet Briar College in Virginia and taught all subjects in county elementary schools in Mississippi and Tennessee. She later went to Memphis to teach math, music, and business management at a junior high school.

While teaching, Beasley spent her free time and vacations selling records at a phonograph store and promoted songs by singing them at a five-and-ten. Beasley soon began writing her own songs. Her first song, "If I Could Only Stop Dreaming," written about an older man over whom she had had a youthful crush, was published by her father. Beasley found a piano player with a radio show to broadcast the song. He did so, on the condition that Beasley sang. This led to her radio debut in Memphis in 1928. She sang on the radio in Memphis through 1928, then performed for a year in Chicago theaters, studios, and clubs. She came to New York City in 1929 and was signed by the Columbia Broadcasting System. Beasley performed in nightclubs and vaudeville houses throughout the country and starred in the musical comedy Thumbs Up.

Irene Beasley's radio career was long and varied. Due to her height, she became known as the "long, tall gal from Dixie." Beasley starred in a number of radio series including Old Dutch Cleanser series, Mennen's Sports Slants (co-starring with Ted Husing), La Palina Cigars (co-starring Guy Lombardo) and the Armour Star Hour. She produced and wrote a children's radio series entitled Aunt Zelena. In 1934, she was voted "Queen of Radio" in a national radio magazine contest.

However, she achieved her greatest success and celebrity as part of the series Grand Slam, a musical quiz show that ran on CBS between 1943 and 1953. Grand Slam was conceived, written, designed, produced, and emceed by Beasley. The show was the first to allow radio listeners to compete along with the studio audience on equal terms. Grand Slam began as a CBS Wesson Oil feature in the late afternoons, but became a five-day-a-week morning show for Continental Baking. By the 1940s, Beasley owned a corn and cotton plantation in Mississippi. After her radio career, she opened a real estate office in Ardsley, N.Y., which she operated until 1977. She died of pneumonia on January 7, 1980 at the age of 75.

Arrangement

This collection is arranged as five series:
Series 1:
Publicity
Series 2:
Business Correspondence and Records
Series 3:
Photographs
Series 4:
Promotional Material
Series 5:
Music

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The Irene Beasley Papers were donated to the University of Maryland Libraries by Irene Beasley via Agnes (J.J.) Connors in June 1980.

Related Materials

The Leading Role: Women in Broadcasting History online exhibition by University of Maryland Libraries includes a gallery highlighting Irene Beasley.
Title
Guide to The Irene Beasley Papers
Status
Completed
Author
Processed by John Wood, July 1996. Revised by Karen Fishman, October 1999. Revised by Jen Wachtel, November 2018.
Date
1999-10-01
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English
Sponsor
Funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

Contact:
University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742
301-405-9212