"Lawrence Welk." Modern Maturity,
December/January 1965-1966, 8-10.
Every Saturday night for 11 years millions of Americans
have sat before their television sets to watch a stocky American-born
Alsatian pick up a baton and say, “A-one, a-two” to
launch his orchestra into the bubbly rhythms of “champagne
|Lawrence Welk and his talented
“Champagne Music” performers have entertained
more than 30,000,000 television viewers each week.
Hepcats call him the “Corn Belt Lombardo.”
To others he is the “Liberace of the Accordion.” But
for nearly half a century Lawrence Welk has been playing the kind
of music millions of Americans like to hear and dance to. Now
every week more than 30,000,000 watch him perform.
|Welk was the proud owner of one of
the fanciest accordions in North Dakota in this photo. He
now owns a $5,000 instrument.
Despite his fame and spectacular success, Lawrence
Welk is essentially the same hardworking, pious, cheerful man
he was back in North Dakota. He has never forgotten his parents’
admonition to “plow deeper, use better seed and keep the
land cleaner than anyone else.”
Ludwig Welk was a German blacksmith who fled Alsace-Lorraine
in 1878 when the Prussians marched in. He migrated to the all-German
community of Strasburg, N.D., acquired 700 acres of good wheat
land and built a sod house. There were eight children in the Welk
family-four boys and four girls-Lawrence being the next to the
In the evenings the Welk family gathered around
the stove to sing German hymns and folk songs. Papa Ludwig accompanied
them on an old pump organ or an accordion.
That’s where Lawrence acquired his unshakeable
accent and his love of music. When he was 17, his father gave
him a $400 accordion with the provision that the youngster stay
on the farm until he was twenty-one.
Soon after he came of age Welk went “on the
road.” For several years he and drummer Julian Tracy played
at weddings, birthdays and church socials all over the Middle
West. Ultimately the saxophone and piano were added. It was with
this combination that he made his first radio broadcast over station
WNAX in Yankton, South Dakota.
It was a rough life of on-night stands. “Sometimes
we worked, sometimes we didn’t,” Welk admitted. “When
we got real hungry, we’d pile into my old sedan and drive
up to Strasburg for a good, home-cooked meal.”
In 1927, Welk’s six-piece orchestra, known
as the “Biggest Little Band in America,” played on
radio and in ballrooms in a five-state area. During this period
they developed the sleeper bus (which many bands used later on)
to help them maintain the strenuous pace.
|1929 the Lawrence Welk “Novelty
Orchestra” played its first radio broadcast.
Every member could play several instruments and
sing. “We tried for a smooth, light sound in which you could
hear both the beat and the melody,” Welk explained.
In 1938, the Welk band was playing at the William
Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh and was broadcasting on a nationwide
radio network. The producer suggested Welk call his sparkling,
bubbly sound “Champagne Music.”
The name stuck and gave the Welk band a distinct
identity. His organization played at the bigger hotels and ballrooms
over the country. In 1951 he signed up for a weekly appearance
on TV while playing at the Aragon ballroom in Ocean Park, Calif.
By the end of four weeks he was packing in 5,000 dancers a night.
Four years later he was on a national hookup.
The experts felt he needed some extra attractions:
leggy chorus girls, maybe a movie personality as master of ceremonies.
“No, gentlemen,” said Welk, “We’re
going to do the program exactly as we’ve always done it.”
|In 1930 Welk’s group was known
as the Hotsy Totsy Boys. They were versatile, each doubling
on several instruments and performing during one-night stands.
||Soon after skilled Myron Floren joined
the band Welk yielded accordion solos to him.
Welk’s judgment of public taste was better
than that of the experts. In July, 1965, Lawrence Welk’s
Music Makers celebrated the beginning of their eleventh year on
ABC, playing to more people each Saturday night than they played
to in all the years they traveled the circuit. In addition to
the weekly TV show the orchestra plays two nights a week at the
famous Hollywood Palladium, three weeks in the summer at Harrah’s
Club, Lake Tahoe, Nevada and they also make occasional concert
tours. Wherever they go they are met with a rousing welcome from
Today Welk is an extremely busy man with many interests
outside of broadcasting. To relieve tensions he sometimes works
on do-it-yourself projects at home. Football and baseball are
his favorite spectator sports. Whenever he can go back to North
Dakota to visit relatives and friends and to go pheasant hunting.
He and his wife, Fern, who have been married for
30 years, have raised their three children with the same simple
virtues he learned from his parents. His greatest sources of pleasure
are his five grandchildren.
Welk has found that people everywhere enjoy the
same kind of music that pleased the folks back home in North Dakota.
Always he avoids tunes with smutty lyrics.
“We need to get back to the wholesome music
and dancing of a generation ago when teenagers and their parents
enjoyed the same kind of entertainment,” he said.
“The rise in juvenile delinquency might possibly
be traced to bad taste in popular music.”
In this day of the Beatles, Rock and Roll and way
out music, Welk’s continued popularity still amazes the
smart-boys in the entertainment business. Those close to Welk,
however, believe they know the answer. His warm personality, his
humbleness, his great desire to please get through to his audiences.
He loves people and they in turn love him.
Many times, without publicity, he has given a helping
hand to those in distress. He likes to see people happy.
|Welk’s knack for picking talent
is proven by the sensationally popular Lennon sisters, stars
on his TV show for ten years.
||Welk was the chef and son, Lawrence,
Jr. The first diner, at a barbecue at Welk’s Country
Club Mobile Estates, a trailer park.