Greene County, Arkansas
Beard's Temple of Music

Transcribed by: Tina Easley

 

"A house is not a home without music"

W. J. Beard

 

 

Owner of a Paragould's Music Store

"The Piano Man"

"The Piano Man" of northeast Arkansas never learned to play one.

But William Jeffrey Beard never really intended to get into the music business, his son recalled.

Beard, who grew up on a Poinsett County farm, took to selling Singer sewing machines to make a little money for himself. One day, a customer offered to trade a pump reed organ for one of the sewing machines that Beard carted around the area by horse and buggy.

Beard made the trade and that decision led him into a new line of business.

He established Beard's Temple of Music in Paragould in 1903 and was later joined in the enterprise in 1905 by his new wife, the former Jennie Bennett, also of Poinsett County.

the couple lived over the music store at 217 S. Pruett for a number of years . In fact , their only son , Jay Palmer Beard was born there before the family moved to a house at 301 W. Main St.

Beard's Temple of Music had its hey-day in an era when music was the chief entertainment in every community, recalled Jay Beard, now of Jonesboro, "One who could play and sing was usually outstanding in their community. a happy home environment developed when young and old would gather for musical entertainment."

Beard said his father would frequently comment , "A house is not a home without music."

"In the early 1900s there was no radio or television stations in operation , " he continued. "Silent films were shown at the theaters . Some times a keyboard musician was employed to furnish music during the showing to keep tempo with the action on the screen. It was music-live music-in the home, church and at gatherings that offered the principal source of entertainment in every community."

Recorded music also offered entertainment. Jay Beard said one of the highlights at the store was listening to the new phonograph releases.

He remembered the time when Tex Alton, the pianist at the Majestic Theater next door, got visibly upset when hearing one of the new releases. It turned out that someone had stolen and recorded one of his compositions: a traveling musician with one of the shows that frequently played the Majestic and the Capitol theaters was suspected. Alton later collected some royalty payments, Beard said.

Jay Beard said his father decided to locate his new music business in Paragould because his brother-n-law, the Rev. Eli Bickley, operated a grocery store here.

In the beginning Beard's Temple of Music was the exclusive dealer for the Estey Reed Organ, a popular instrument for home and church. Pianos were later added to the line , including such names as Story and Clark, Wurlitzer, Chickering and Sons and Knobe and Gulbranson. Still later, Hammond and Wurlitzer electric organs became popular.

Two products were sold at Beard's Temple of Music and nowhere else -- the Palmer piano produced by the Story and Clark Piano Co. and the Palmerphone produced by the Victor Talking Machine Co. Both were built to specifications set by Beard and took his son's middle name.

By 1916 , there were 17 employees at Beard's Temple of Music.

An extensive repair and refinishing department occupied the second floor where the rebuilt pianos were displayed. A manually rope-driven elevator was installed to transport the instruments to the upper floor, Jay Beard said.

The music emporium even added a full-time garage to take care of its growing number of delivery trucks.

An adjoining building, 219 S. Pruett, was later used so the Beard's could display more musical instruments and phonograph players.

Beard's Temple of Music is perpetuated in the call letters for northeast Arkansas 's oldest radio station, KBTM of Jonesboro.

Jay Beard had built a radio receiving set to earn a Boy Scout merit badge. "When my dad saw that it worked he said "Would you like to have a radio station? I'll put some money in it.

Naturally, the younger Beard about 19 at the time, liked the idea.

After some delay KBTM began its broadcast as "the Voice of Crowley's Ridge" on March 15, 1930. Four years later, the main studio was moved to Jonesboro although a remote studio was maintained at the music store for a few years longer.

Jay Beard said he relocated the station because he was afraid someone else was getting ready to move into the Jonesboro market.

Beard's Temple of Music remained a Paragould fixture for more than 50 years until the Beards retired in 1954, selling it to a nephew, Otis F. Jones.

By then the store had been relocated to a new building at the corner of Main and Wall streets, after a 1940 fire destroyed the original quarters.

Jones who had worked a t the store for about 25 years , operated it for a time as Jones Temple of Music and relocated the to West Kingshighway. It was later sold again and remained in until 1960's.