Danzig man Strikes up the Band

Lind, Bob. "Danzig man Strikes up the Band." Forum, 8 November 2005, sec. 2B.

Here, from out of the past, come stories about the first radio in Danzig, N.D, about going barefoot during the summer and about Dolores the Singing Director.

They come from Doug Johnson, now of Madison, Wis., who once lived in Lehr, N.D.

Doug, seeing a Neighbors story about a book published recently about Danzig, sent in information about his father, Art Johnson, who grew up in Danzig.

Art was born on a farm there in 1909 and attended the Danzig Elementary School.

When he was a boy, he'd take a few cows belonging to Danzig residents out to pasture and just spend the day there. That was great fun.

So was going barefoot, which all the boys did all summer. Then came the bummer: When the boys went back to school in the fall, they had to wear shoes. Young Art hated that.

Danzig at one time got its electricity from a one-cylinder diesel generator. Several men would start it every morning by pulling on a long rope wrapped around the flywheel. It was shut down at night.

Danzigs first radio? It was owned by the depot agent. Every Saturday night, most of the townspeople would go to the depot and take turns using the earphones to hear music coming over this incredible device.

Art Johnson, Bandleader, born in 1909, he later became a leader of three bands in the Danzig area.

When Art was about 16, his family moved to Lehr, where they operated the Johnson Caf.

Meanwhile, Art was into music.

Art taught himself to play the trumpet when he was a boy and he was playing in a band when he was about 12.

He went on to direct three bands:

- The Golden Fellowship Band, based in Venturia, N.D.

- The Lehr High School band.

- And in between, a dance band which had posters reading The Art Johnson Orchestra Featuring Dolores the Singing Director.

Dolores was Dolores Eisenbeis, probably from the Danzig-Ashley-Venturia area, Doug says. Her title of singing director was a gimmick; once in a while when Al would play the trumpet with the band, Dolores would take over as director. But the title looked good on the posters.

The band toured the state about the same time Strasburgs Lawrence Welk was getting started.

Art became involved in many nonmusical activities, too. He was a Golden Gloves manager. He operated a traveling theater troupe. He served under Gen. George Patton in Europe during World War II. He was a professional photographer. He was a postal clerk and became a postmaster.

He died in 1980. His wife Lyla still lives in Lehr.

The Johnsons had two sons. Doug graduated from Lehr High School and from Augsburg College in Minneapolis, then taught high school physics in Madison until he retired in 2002. His brother, Gordon, lives in Rogers, N.D., and works for Miller Motors in Valley City, N.D.

And looking back on the musical careers of these North Dakotans, it should be noted that even though Lawrence Welk did fairly well with his orchestra and his Champagne Lady, he never had the pleasure, as Art Johnson did, of featuring Dolores the Singing Director.

Art Johnson's band plays on a muddy street in Danzig, N.D., circa 1930.
Johnson's Golden Fellowship Band plays Venturia, N.D., circa 1930. Johnson is the leader (in dark coat).

Reprinted with permission of the Forum.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller