Let's take a moment and remember one of the early pioneers of WSM and the Grand Ole Opry and that is Alcyone Bate Beasley, who was born on May 30, 1912.
Alcyone was the daughter of Dr. Humphrey Bate, on of the early stars of the Opry and WSM radio. And, while George D. Hay and Jimmy Thompson are often credited with creating the WSM Barn Dance, as it was originally called and Uncle Jimmy is often regarded as the first performer of that show, there are those who have a different opinion and one of those was Alcyone. The following is from the book, "Grand Ole Opry,":
Dr. Bate's daughter, Mrs. Alcyone Bate Beasley, challenged George Hay's claim that he inauguarated the first "barn dance" program on WSM on Saturday evening, November 28, 1925. If not Hay, then who? Her father did, Mrs. Beasley contended, and it should be her father who should get credit for originating what became the Grand Ole Opry. Mrs. Beasley's story is that he fathers group-with Alcyone Bate, aged thirteen, playing the piano-did the first Saturday-night "barn dance" on WSM less than three weeks after the station went on the air, at the end of October 1925. She told a reporter: "I remember that night after it was over, we drove back home in the old Ford car and Daddy, who always called me 'Booger', said, 'Booger, we might've started something down there tonight, you just don't know.'
She continued: "We played there for about four or five weeks before Mr. Hay came. We would drive into Nashville and perform on WDAD in the afternoon, then we would walk up the hill and play on WSM later in the evening. I remember we would give Jack Keefe, who was the WSM announcer then, a list of the numbers we were going to play during the hour we would be on the air. And within just two weeks or so, bands from everywhere began to come up to be put on the air. One of the first of them was Mr. Ed Poplin's band from Lewisburg, Tennessee. I never felt badly about it toward Mr. Hay, because he wasn't well, but the fact remains that nothing was ever said about Uncle Jimmy Thompson being the first on the show until long after my Daddy died in 1936."
While I will not go into this further, people have done some extensive research and there is evidence to support her story, including newspaper accounts and program schedules that were printed in the Nashville Tennessean. But as the years went on, WSM decided to officially support the George D. Hay version of when the Opry started and that is how it is today. But in the process, Dr. Humphrey Bate and his group of musicians, including his daughter Alcyone, have been in many ways forgotten.
As I said, Alcyone was part of Dr. Humphrey Bate's group, "The Possum Hunters", from the time the Opry started in 1925, up until Dr. Bate passed away in 1936. After Dr. Bate passed away, The Possum Hunters would continue to be a part of the Opry, in various forms, with Alcyone and Staley Walton working to keep them together. But it was a struggle, especially as the Opry adopted a more sophisticated sound then tended not to highlight the string bands. After years of struggle, by the 1960s, the Possom Hunters were merged with the Crook Brothers band, who would remain on the Opry in the 1980s. When the string bands were merged together, the other group that was left were the Fruit Jar Drinkers. In the early 1970s, Alcyone went into semi-retirement, and after 40 some years of being part of the Opry, the Possom Hunters were no more. Alcyone would continue to be a regular backstage visitor at the Opry and would appear yearly at the reunion shows, or old-timers night that the Opry would hold, ususally each April.
Alcyone is often credited with being the first woman on the Opry. And while it is difficult to find detailed information about her, there is a wonderful facebook page devoted to Dr. Humphrey Bate and The Possom Hunters that I urge all my readers to check out.
Last month, I posted the line up from the Grand Ole Opry show that was held on April 4, 1981, which was that year's reunion show. I believe that was the last reunion show that she performed at as she passed away October 1982 at the age of 70.
Alcyone Bate Beasley is one of the early forgotten pioneers of the Opry and I wanted to take a moment and remember her on what would have been her 99th birthday.