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.