In Southern Gospel Music, there are some iconic female vocalists, including Mom Speer, Vestal Goodman and Lily Fern Weatherford to name a few. However, the behind-the-scenes list of female executives is sparse. Lou Hildreth and Faye Shedd have been involved in Gospel Music as agents and promoters. However, no lady has impacted Southern Gospel Music the way Beckie Simmons has to date. Her love affair with Gospel Music is heartfelt and genuine, and it started at a young age.
Simmons was active in the church where her dad and brother pastored.
“We all played instruments, sang and were very involved in the church full-time, with not only a church, but a daycare center, a printing shop, a radio program and a television show,” Simmons says. “I worked full time for the church and even taught piano lessons at the church.”
Simmons recalls the first concert she attended.
“I was featured on a local 30-minute organ show on the Southern Gospel station in our area, and one day the station manager called and asked if I would play the Hammond Organ 30 minutes prior to a Gospel concert the following week,” Simmons remembers. “I said yes. That concert featured the Rambos, the Oak Ridge Boys, J.D. Sumner and the Stamps, and the Downings. That concert I went to was promoted by Sonny Simmons. I was hooked and just fell in love with the music.”
Sonny was from Columbus, Ohio, while Beckie hailed from Louisville, Ky. In time, Sonny and Beckie became what many would call the major power couple in the music business. They moved to Nashville for their concert promotions business, Masters Promotions. They set up shop in a borrowed, one-room office.
As the business grew, Masters Promotions evolved into a full promotions company and eventually a booking agency.
“It didn’t start out that way, but artist bookings grew out of the concert promotions,” Simmons explains. “It just happened.”
Eventually, a new name was chosen, and Century II Promotions became one of the premier companies booking Southern Gospel Music in the evolution and expansion years of Gospel Music. They relocated their office to Nashville’s famed Music Row. The Simmons were in the thick of things in the music world. Their agency expanded its talent roster to include all types of musical and entertainment artists. In doing so, the Simmons worked with some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry.
“Being a preacher’s kid, I loved the Gospel Music artists, while Sonny worked more with the country artists at that time,” Simmons shares. “It just worked for us.”
Sonny Simmons passed away in 2007, but his legacy lives on in those he touched over the years. For Sonny and Beckie Simmons, Century II Promotions was a work of family and love for the music and the artists.
Over the years, Beckie Simmons became the face of Century II Promotions Gospel artists’ division, her first love, while working with Country Music leaders. She honed her craft by watching the greats of Gospel Music such as Les Beasley and Bob Brumley. Absorbing their business acumen while mentoring her artists, Simmons paved the way for many aspiring artists.
This hard-working lady has taken virtually unknown musicians and developed them into some of the most well-known and best-selling Southern Gospel artists in the country. Included among the artists that she has worked with is Gold City, Heaven Bound, the Bowlings, the Crabb Family and a host of other talents. She was the first to book Karen Peck and New River, Jeff and Sheri Easter, and Chonda Pierce when Pierce was impersonating Minnie Pearl at Opryland.
“Being a (pastor’s kid), I have always wanted to be involved,” Simmons points out. “I even thought I was going to be a pastor’s wife at one time. But God had a different future for me. I am told I’m like a mom to the artists at BSA Talent. It just comes natural.”
The Southern Gospel Music Guild honored the lifetime achievements of Judy Nelon and Lou Hildreth, with Beckie Simmons positioned on left in black.
Over the years, she has been the recipient of many awards that honor her devotion and selfless work in Gospel Music. Among these, she received the Lou Hildreth Diamond Award in 2003 from SGNScoops.
In 2004, Simmons’ life took another turn, one which included Glen Bates.
“I knew of Glen when he was with the Tennesseans,” Simmons recalls. “We booked them at the time with Century II. In 2004, he came to (a large concert event), saw the BSA booth and stopped to say hello. He never said his name, just walked up and started talking. We chatted a few minutes, and he left. I tried to remember who he was and told some of my friends, “I can’t remember his name. I know him, but he is not from my world. He is from ‘the other side.’”
Bates’ love of music is rich. Bates sang with the Tennesseans, Downings and the Carole Lee Singers at the Grand Ole Opry. Louise Mandrell arranged for an audition with the Four Guys; he joined the group staying with them until 2000. During his last five years at the Opry, he was staff writer for Glen Campbell Music. He wrote Country Music, where he honed his songwriting craft. Then, as he began to write Gospel lyrics, he says the lines just flowed.
“It doesn’t take long to know who really writes the music,” Bates points out.
Today, Bates is an integral part of the Gospel Music scene. He heads BSA World Records while producing artists’ music and writing songs.
In addition to being developing a relationship with Gospel Music, he developed one with Simmons as well.
“When I got back home, he called me at work,” Simmons says. “In the conversation, I remembered that he was one of the Four Guys Quartet from the Grand Ole Opry. The first thing he asked me when he called was, ‘Do you own a pair of tennis shoes and blue jeans?’ I told him, ‘Yes, but I seldom wear them.’ After a day of flea markets and Dave’s Ribs, I was falling head over heels. We started dating, and it wasn’t long before he became my best friend.”
They have been together ever since.
Since June 1997, Simmons has done what very few people in her position have done even once … she has put together yet another very successful second agency, BSA/Beckie Simmons Agency, which is one of the premier artist agencies in Southern Gospel Music. Simmons and her son Todd Hames partnered to start the agency.
“God knew exactly what I needed when Todd was born, because he does everything at BSA that I cannot do,” Simmons points out. “He runs the company while I book and nurture our artists.”
Her professional and administrative team includes son, daughter-in-law Melinda Hames, Dixie McKeithen, Matthew Hames, Judy Montgomery and Ann Smith. Each of those talented individuals bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to BSA.
Tenacity is one word that describes Simmons and her team. She is passionate, devoted and cares deeply about the growth and success of the artists she works with daily. Over the years, this writer has worked with Simmons in scheduling concerts for various groups and even closer when employed with the Singing Americans and Hallelujah Supper Club. Her work ethic is second to none, being determined to get the job done. Customer satisfaction is her priority.
At BSA, its goal is to get the Word out through song by bringing the artist and the promoter together smoothly and efficiently, and then get out of the way and let God do His work.
“We don’t want to be conspicuous, but we do want to make the concerts go off without a hitch,” Simmons explains. “The less the audience hears about us, the better we’ve done our job.”
So, if you ask Beckie and Glen how they wish to be remembered, Glen answer is … “I want to be remembered as a vessel.”
Beckie’s response is similar.
“The helping hand,” she says. “Making a difference is the greatest reward on this earth.”
Gospel Music is not just a business to Simmons. It is a way of life. It is family. Add those music artists to her family today, and you have 24 artists, 13 grandchildren, and a loving husband.
Life is full for a lady who is living and working the life-long dream in a music industry that she loves.
By Charlie Griffin
First published by SGNScoops Magazine August 2017