About The Artist
William (Billy) Thomas O'Connor was born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee to parents Edward and Willie (Hays) O'Connor. The couple had three daughters and two sons; William was the youngest. His parents divorced. The 1920 U. S. Census shows him living with his grandmother in Nashville.
In November 1927, the Life and Casualty Insurance Company that owned WLAC purchased the entire interest of Dad Auto Accessories Company's in a broadcasting station that was jointly operated by the two companies as WLAC and WDAD. It was effective November 21, 1927 and the call letters WDAD were discontinued and the new station was operated as WLAC. Some familiar music performers in Nashville were part of its inaugural program. Reber Boult, baritone; Crook Brothers (old-time tunes); Fields and Martin, Hawaiian music; Obed Pickard as the 'one-man orchestra'; Bob Cason, a pianist. Mrs. Aline Bellamy companied several vocalists that evening — Miss Gladys Castleman, soprano; 'Plug' Kendrick, tenor; and, Billy O'Connor, tenor.
In 1928, when he was just 21 years old, he and Chrstine Lamb won the Atwater Kent audition in September in the Tennessee 'state audition.'
On October 10 and 11, 1928, Christine Lamb and Billy O'Connor would competed from Nashville in the Tennessee State Atwater Kent Audition contest. Atwater Kent Foundation was putting up a prize pool of $17,500. The winners would be determined by votes of radio listeners which count 60 percent of their vote and 40 percent resides with a board of judges. The state winners will then compete for the Dixie District title in Nashville over WSM with winners from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, Kentucky, Alabama and Mississippi.
The contest was at WSM, the National Life and Accident Insurance Company's station. Miss Lamb got 657 votes. Billy O'Connor, already singing over the air on WLAC and WSM, got 732 votes. But the contest was not without its controversy. It was reported that a large number of votes had to be discarded for each contestant because the rules stipulated that 'group votes' do not count. A time limit was also strictly observed. Other votes were tossed when they only voted for one person. A ballot needed votes for two people to be counted.
Billy was often accompanied by a piano player on his shows. For a time he was paired with Bob Cason and they were known as WLAC's "B. B. Boys." On other occasions, he was paired with Mrs. Alline Bellamy. But that changed in August 1929. The WLAC radio logs were now showing "Alline and Billy O'Connor." Billy and Alline had gotten married, though there was no publicity about their marriage.
In early 1929, he was part of a morning show. WLAC had a "Opening Markets and Morning Musicals" that featured Billy O'Connor.
In 1930, Billy was now being heard over WSM. He was accompanied by Margot Sheetz; they would do songs and pipe organ arrangements twice a week. But at the same time, another new artist had joined WSM with his wife. They were known as "Jack and Jill" - 'clever entertainers.' The couple would also do a special pipe organ frolic from the Loew's Theater on Wednesday nights. But in about a month, a new duo was formed and became part of the WSM Grand Ole Opry's history. They were to be known as "Jack and Billy" then "Jack and Bill." The new couple was Jack and Jacqueline Thurston, a British couple who had moved to the United States in 1926.
April to November 1930 — Jack and Bill
Starting with April 5, 1930 through December 20, 1930, the new duo of Jack (Thurston) and Bill (O'Connor) were a popular act on WSM; not only during the week, but also on the WSM Grand Ole Opry on Saturday nights. Let's see what history shows.
On April 5, 1930, a new Saturday night show made its debut, "Jack and Bill's Music Shop." Jack played the piano, Bill (Billy O'Connor) was a tenor. That same night, they made their debut on the Opry at 7:00pm for 15 minutes. This would begin a run of continuous performances through the end of November.
Gradually readers would learn more about this new team. They were said to have "perfected a team to sing not only the popular numbers of the day but the so-called hokum songs and old ballads." Readers learned that Jack was a pianist and could also play the pipe organ. He had been heard previously in the British Isles and in the United States prior to coming to Nashville in early 1930. He had started in radio in Tulsa, Oklahoma several years prior. Billy O'Connor was a popular Nashville tenor. They had a show on Monday at 10:00pm; Thursday at 8:00pm; and, Saturday night at 7:00pm. During their Opry stints, they would do "old-time songs."
Jack also seemed to have a creative side to him. He had the idea that a girls' trio would be appreciated by the WSM audience. He was rehearsing Christine Lamb, Margaret Rich Ackerman and Jusine Dumm. Their first show was to be Monday, August 4, 1930. They were to do "...late songs of a popular nature." However, review of radio logs for WSM did not seem to show a program for them. Or perhaps they were part of the Jack and Bill show.
The "Music Shop" concept came about from an idea of pretending to sell songs on the radio. It was meant to be a farce, the selling part. But the idea clicked with the listening audience. When a listener wanted to hear a tune, a letter could be sent or call the radio station. The song is then "sold" to them over the air "promptly."
The music shop show was very popular. Reports they were getting "requests by the hundreds." Jack was described as a "pianist with decided ability" and Bill's "tenor voice is a big drawing card."
At the end of 1930, they appear to have gone their separate ways. Jack took on the role of doing pipe organ frolics at the Paramount Theatre in Nashville, with programs over WLAC. Billy continued to sing over WSM; he was now being accompanied by Leon Cole, another Nashville music legend.
The year began with Billy now appearing with the National Orchestra early in January. In February, he had his own show at 4:30pm on WSM called "Melodies with Billy O'Connor." In March 1932, radio logs show him as part of "The Gastonians" radio show over WSM. By 1933, his name was no longer appearing in the radio logs in Nashville.
In 1935, the Local 109, Southern Bell Telephone Company held a banquet in Gallatin, Tennessee with an attendance of just over 40 people. During that banquet, it was reported that "...Mr. and Mrs. Billy O'Connor furnished music." This would be about the last mention of Billy O'Connor and his musical career.
The 1940 U.S. Census shows Billy and Alline living in Gallatin with her 24 year old daughter, Alline. He was listed as a salesman for an electric company. The 1950 U.S. Census shows them in Portland, Tennessee. It shows that Mr. O'Connor was a manager of a dairy plant.
Billy O'Connor passed away in Wadley Hospital in Texarkana, Arkansas of severe pneuonia. At the time of his passing, he was a bookkeeper and living in San Antonio, Texas. He was buried in Spring Hill Cemetery in Nashville.
He was in the U. S. Army from September 22, 1942 to September 26, 1945. When he registered for the military in 1940, he was working with Tooley-Myron as a photographer.
At the time of his death, he was divorced from his wife, Alline. She passed away on January 31, 1964 at the age of 73. She was buried in Crestview Memory Gardens in Gallatin, Tennessee. Alline Buttrey was first married to Clarence A. Bellamy on April 7, 1909. Mr. Bellamy died in Columbus, Mississippi after a long period of ill health. His mother had been summoned to the hospital and was at his side when he passed away. He had been assistant manager of the Columbus Auto Company.She later married William (Billy) T. O'Connor per the 1920 U.S. Census. The 1930 U. S. Census shows she was married to Billy. It also lists three daughters, Mildred Bellamy (19), Edna Bellamy (17) and Alline Bellamy (14) from her first marriage to Clarence Bellamy. In 1930, Alline, his wife, was 36; Billy was 25.
Credits & Sources
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