Irl Leslie Allison, Sr., pianist, music educator, and founder of the National Guild of Piano Teachers, was born on April 8, 1896, in Warren, Texas. He was the son of John VanBuren and Mollie (Richardson) Allison. He attended Bryan Military Academy and in 1915 received an A.B. from Baylor University. After studying at Chicago Music College and Columbia University, he returned to Baylor, where he received an A.M. in 1922. He was awarded honorary doctorates in music by Southwestern Conservatory, Dallas, in 1947 and by the Houston Conservatory of Music in 1955. He also received an honorary law degree from Hardin-Simmons University. As a young man Allison was a silent-film pianist in a Waco theater. He later studied piano with Rudolph Hoffman, Joseph Evans, Percy Grainger, Ernest Hutcheson, Harold von Mickwitz, and Walter Gilewicz. He married Jessie Johnson on July 3, 1918, and they had four children. A son, Irl Leslie, Jr., succeeded his father as president of the National Guild of Piano Teachers.
Although Allison was best-known to hundreds of thousands of music teachers and their pupils by his signature on certificates awarded by the National Guild for participation in the Annual National Piano Playing Auditions, he was also a renowned music teacher. He served as dean of music at Rusk College in 1918–19, was a piano instructor at Baylor College for Women from 1921 to 1923, and was dean of fine arts at Montezuma College from 1923 to 1927. From 1927 to 1934 he was dean of music at Hardin-Simmons University, where he organized the National Guild and began the National Guild Auditions in 1929. He was also the founder and president of the guild-sponsored American College of Musicians and of the National Fraternity of Student Musicians. Allison edited the guild yearbook from 1936 to 1945 and Piano Guild Notes from 1951 to 1963. He contributed to several musical publications and newspapers and wrote Through the Years (1925). He also founded the Golden Rule Peace Movement and began the World Peace Programs for radio in 1948. Under the auspices of the guild, Allison compiled and edited the Irl Allison Library of Music series in thirty-three volumes; he also initiated and promoted into an international event the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. In Austin, where the Allisons made their home after 1943, he was largely responsible for developing the Azalea Trail, and presented to Lady Bird Johnson azaleas for the Lyndon B. Johnson Library. He died in Austin on September 6, 1979, and was buried in Austin Memorial Park Cemetery. In 2006 Allison was honored posthumously with an Achievement Award of the Music Teachers National Association.