History Culture Lawrence Welk
Welk, TV's Family Music man
Wloszczyna, Susan. "Welk, TV's Family Music man." USA Today, 19 May
Lawrence Welk never sweated innovations. The accordionist and
bandleader knew his bubbly brand of clean-cut, family entertainment
"Music changes," he said, "but I don't."
The Elvis of the rocking chair set who put the fizz in "Champagne
Music" for nearly three decades on TV died Sunday at 89
in Santa Monica, Calif. He had pneumonia.
What may have seemed cornball to a generation raised on rock
'n' roll was "wunnerful, wunnerful" to the faithful
who tuned in every week from 1955 to 1982. (Reruns still air.)
His well-scrubbed troupe of smiling faces was like family: the
harmonizing Lennon Sisters, tap-dancing ex-Mouseketeer Bobby
Burgess, "Champagne Lady" Norma Zimmer, Irish tenor
Welk was born on a North Dakota farm in a German community
that fostered his much-imitated accent. A fourth-grade dropout,
he taught himself the accordion and formed his first band in
the '20s. A Midwest fixture for years, Welk arrived on the West
Coast in the '40. A 1951 date at a Los Angeles ballroom led
to TV appearances at a local station, which led to an ABC contract
four years later.
When the network decided the Geritol crowd was undesirable
to advertisers in 1971, Welk continued to produce shows himself
and syndicated them to more stations than when he was on ABC.
After he retired, Welk translated his music sense into business
savvy. He ran a $100 million real-estate and publishing empire
that included the Champagne Towers condo complex in Santa Monica,
where he lived with Fern, his wife of more than 50 years.
A 1990 try by Congress to grant his hometown of Strasburg $500,000
to build a museum was shot down. But fans don't need a museum
to remember Welk. They'll hear him each time a cork pops.
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