| Bubbles, Bach and the Blues, the 20th Century in Review
Raihala, Ross. "Bubbles, Bach and the Blues, the 20th Century in Review." Forum, 16 May 1999, sec. 2E.
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 ah-two
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.
A North Dakota farm boy named Lawrence Welk never forgot
his roots, even after he became the nation's king of "champagne
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
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."
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, wunnerful"
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."
"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 the home."
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
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 7,300-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 Welk Highway."
Reprinted in part with permission of The Forum, Fargo, North