Welk, TV's Family Music man

Wloszczyna, Susan. "Welk, TV's Family Music man." USA Today, 19 May 1992.

Lawrence Welk never sweated innovations. The accordionist and bandleader knew his bubbly brand of clean-cut, family entertainment would endure.

"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 Joe Feeney.

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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