Extraordinary Accordionist Myron
Floren Dies at 85
"Extraordinary Accordionist Myron Floren Dies at 85." Lawrence Welk Show Musical Family News 12, 2005, no. 2: 5.
Myron Floren, one of the great accordionists of the 20th century and a star of the Lawrence Welk Show for over 50 years, died on July 23, 2005 in Los Angeles, California, at the age of 85. A consummate musician, Myron could play everything from a polka to a popular song to a Bach cantata with equal style and grace. His warm personality and ready smile, in addition to his musical artistry, made him an audience favorite whenever and wherever he appeared.
The talented native of South Dakota was a self-taught musical entertainer for most of his life, beginning as a 9-year-old farm boy at fairs, programs and social events. He joined the Welk band in 1950 and became one of the featured stars of the Lawrence Welk Show that was broadcast nationally from 1955 to 1982. Dubbed “The Happy Norwegian,” the handsome, wavy-haired musician was one of the most popular members of the large cast and eventually became one of the band’s assistant conductors.
Myron continued as part of the Welk Musical Family the program moved to public television in 1987, starring a dozen new specials and hosting some of the re-broadcasts of the weekly series, carried on 280 stations around the country. Until his final illness, he did well over a hundred appearances each year, attracting huge crowds of faithful fans, both young and old, mentoring and encouraging youthful accordionists from all over the world.
“I’m going to keep squeezing this thing,” he once said, “until nobody calls anymore.”
Born on a farm near Roslyn, South Dakota, Myron grew up in a quiet, rural area of the United States, never imagining how far his musical talent would take him. At 6 years of age, he heard an accordion player perform at a fair and he was so enthralled that he decided to make it his career. His father recognized his talent and ordered a $10 accordion for the ambitious young boy. Myron taught himself how to play, using his own methods of study, and a few years later, he was taking his first bows as a solo artist.
Myron worked his was through Augustana College in
Sioux Falls, South Dakota by teaching accordion lessons and working
at the local radio station, KSOO, as “The Melody Man.”
He did shows in the early morning, noon and evening, sandwiching
classes between programs. He graduated in the early forties, at
the beginning of the war, but because of a serious bout with rheumatic
fever as a child that permanently damaged his heart, he failed
to pass a physical exam for the Army. At his insistence, after
agreeing to waive insurance, Myron was accepted into the USO and
received a Captain’s rating.
He immediately became a member of the European Theater of Operation when the war was at its peak, performing with top stars such as Marlene Dietrich and Lily Pons, on battlefields, troop trains and in field hospitals. As the war drew to a close, he was with the battalions of men who liberated the city of Paris, a historical moment he treasured, still filled with the pride and wonder of it.
After The War
On his return to South Dakota in 1945, Myron married his Fiancée, Berdyne Koerner, one of his former students. In 1946, they moved to Missouri to join the “Buckeye four,” a highly popular musical group. In 1950, the young couple attended a dance at the Casa Loma Ballroom in St. Louis, where the Lawrence Welk Orchestra was playing. Myron had first met the up-and-coming Mr. Welk at the Arkota Ballroom in Sioux Falls and was pleased when the bandleader recognized him and invited him to perform a number with his band.
“I chose to play Lady of Spain for the audience that night,” Myron recalled later, “and the crowd response was so enthusiastic that Lawrence insisted I play through the evening.”
Always looking for talent, Welk hired Myron virtually on the spot, much to the dismay of his own manager, who believed it was a mistake to hire someone who played the accordion better than he did. Lawrence told him, “The only people I hire are the ones who play better than I do.”
A Welk Show Star
Lawrence Welk offered Myron a permanent place in his band, unheard of in those days of transient musicians who moved from group to group. It was a friendship that lasted for 32 years and Myron was an important part of the band’s success. He was on the rode with the band in the early fifties and moved to California when that fateful decision was made by Mr. Welk. He was an integral part of the local television broadcasts and became a featured solo performer when the Lawrence Welk Show moved to national television on July 2, 1955.
One of Myron’s favorite memories happened in September, 1971, when the Welk show played for 21,000 people in Madison Square Garden in New York City. Myron recalled, “Just before going on stage, Mr. Welk said, ‘Wunnerful, wunnerful, Myron!’ ‘What’s so wonderful?’ I asked him. And Lawrence said ‘Isn’t it wunnerful what two farm boys from North and South Dakota can do!’”
When Lawrence Welk retired in 1984, the show went off the air, except for a few holiday specials. Myron’s performance schedule surged to more than 200 dates a year, often as a solo artist, or performing with other members of the Welk Show cast. When the show became a series on public show television and new specials were created, Myron was inundated with even more performance dates.
In 1992, Larry Welk opened the Welk Resort and Champagne Theatre in Branson, Missouri and Myron was one of the stars invited back each year for a limited engagement. In addition, he was the featured star of the PolkaFest, a yearly festival at the Welk Resort that attracted polka bands and accordionists from all over the world.
Over the years, Myron was invited to appear at the same events each year. His annual events included the Wurstfest in New Braunfels, Texas; the Hostfest in Minot, North Dakota; and the Strawberry Festival in Plant City, Florida. His audiences never grew smaller, they just grew a bit more mature.
Myron often said, “I might be getting older, but when I am on stage and see the folks in the audience, and hear the band, I’m 18 again, and I have even more fun than the audience!”
Myron is survived by is wife, Berdyne, five daughters, Krisitie, Robin, Heidi, Holly and Randee, and three sons-in-law: Bobby Burgess, one of the stars of the Lawrence Welk Show, (Kristie); Sam Gennawey (Heidi); and Tom Cipolla (Robin). He is also survived by seven grandchildren: Becki, Robert, Wendi and Brent Bugess and Meridith, Emily and Liana Cipolla.
Memorial tributes to Myron can be sent to: USO World Headquarters/Attn: Margo Durham, 2111 Wilson Blvd., Suite 1200, Arlington, VA 22201.