Bubbles, Bach and the Blues
The 20th Century in Review
Raihala, Ross. "Bubbles, Bach and the Blues." Forum, 16 May 1999, sec. E-2.
|Lawrence Welk, a native of Strasburg,
N.D., helped many other artists get their start in the music
business. His television program enjoyed a 27-year run.
Where to begin when compiling a list of the region's musicians
who went on to national prominence? It's as easy as ah-one and
A North Dakota farm boy named Lawrence Welk
never forgot his roots, even after he became the nation's king
of "champagne music."
Born March 11, 1903, on a wheat farm near Strasburg,
60 miles southeast of Bismarck, Welk taught himself the accordion
at the age of 12. Forty years later, Welk made his ABC television
debut and forged his place in American history.
As a teen, Welk earned money for his family playing
barn dances, but vowed to stay home until he was 21. By 1927,
Welk formed his own band and spent several years performing on
the Yankton, South Dakota radio station WNAX by day and touring
the region's ballrooms by night.
In 1938, Welk landed his first major concert at
the St. Paul Hotel in Pittsburgh. His band spent the next 10 years
headquartered in Chicago, hitting the road whenever and wherever
he was called.
A gig in Santa Monica, California eventually led
to Welk's job at ABC. His hour-long Saturday evening show hit
the air as a summer replacement in 1955 to mixed reviews -- TV
Guide groused that the show lacked "sparkle and verve."
The American public, however, disagreed and turned
"The Lawrence Welk Show" into what "The Complete Directory to
Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows" called "one of the major
musical success stories in all of television history."
|Lawrence Welk named his band the "Hotsy
Totsy Boys" in the early 1930s. By 1938 he came up with
"The Champagne Music of Lawrence Welk."
Welk's formula for success was simple. He presented an hour's
worth of music aimed squarely at the wholesome American family.
He never attempted to hide his heavy German accent, either, and
grew to accept those who poked fun at his stiff demeanor and "wunnerful,
"We try to please our audience," Welk once said.
"We try to bring it some joy, happiness, relaxation and always
in good taste -- the kind of entertainment that should come into
Welk launched many future stars, including Lynn
Anderson, a Grand Forks native who won a Grammy for "I Never
Promised You a Rose Garden" and former WDAY musical director Frank
Scott who wrote more than 2,000 of the arrangements showcased
on Welk's show.
In 1971, ABC let Welk go because the network felt
his audience, however large, was too old for its target demographic.
Undaunted, Welk continued a successful run in syndication, with
his last original episode airing in 1982.
During his television career, Welk also published
several books and amassed a fortune in the millions. But he always
returned to North Dakota, either to perform for his longtime fans
or to collect numerous accolades, including an honorary doctor
of music degree from North Dakota State University in 1965.
Welk died in 1992 at age 89.
Today, Welk's grandson is vice president and general
manager of the Welk Resort Center in Branson, Missouri a complex
that includes a 2,300-seat theater, a 158-room resort and a 400-seat
restaurant. Welk's homestead has been converted into a museum
and a stretch of Highway 83 in Emmons County is now known as "Lawrence
Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Fargo,