It's the Last 'A One, and a Two, and a Three' Show

Mooney, Bob. "It's the Last 'A One, and a Two, and a Three' Show." Watertown Public Opinion, 1983.

After 27 years on television and making 1,542 hour-long shows, Lawrence Welk has decided to call it quits.

The North Dakota farmboy who became an international music star taped his last weekly television show Wednesday in Los Angeles, bringing down the curtain on a career that had its start in the dance halls and lakeside pavilions of northeast South Dakota.

“He used to play around here quite a bit at one time,” remembers Watertown’s Leo Fortin, a former member of Welk’s orchestra. “He started down around in this area.”

Fortin played trumpet with Welk for almost 25 years before leaving the band in 1950 to settle in Watertown. Although he said he hadn’t heard much on Welk’s retirement, he said he had a pretty good idea why the man who invented “Champagne Music” was hanging up his baton.

“I think his wife put her foot down,” Fortin said. “She’s been wanting him to get out of it for a long time. After all, he’s put in a lot of years and he’s got it made now. He’s a wealthy man.”

Fortin, who visited with Welk during a performance in Sioux Falls last summer, had no idea how accurate his guess was. The Associated Press reported that Welk had said his wife (Fern) persuaded him to cut back his work load and spend more time at their country club trailer park in Escondido, Calif.

Ted Trautman, Estelline, is another former member of Welk’s band living in the area but he doesn’t think his former boss’ retirement will last long.

“He’ll slow up a little bit but he won’t retire,” said Trautman, a former trumpet player. “That’s his life. He wouldn’t last very long if he retired completely. He’s too used to working.”

Trautman, though, can remember a time when neither he nor Welk were particularly fond of working.

“I knew him when he as living on the farm as a boy (in North Dakota). He lived on one side of the (state) line and I lived on the other. We had relatives up near where he lived and we went up to visit them quite often; that’s how I got acquainted with him.

“He was not very keen about farm work. He didn’t like it any more than I did. That was hard work in those days.”
Trautman played in Welk’s band in the middle of the 1920s and remembered that Welk was not as musically well versed as he is now.

“He played the accordion and a little piano by ear, but he couldn’t read music very well. He’s quite musically inclined and he learned (to read music) after a while. I don’t know if you could say that I taught him to read music, but I helped him.”

Welk won’t be disappearing from television completely after his final show airs the week of April 11. The show will continue with reruns on stations throughout Canada and the United States and next fall a syndicated version of “Memories with Lawrence Welk” will begin with Welk taping introductions for each of his 52 favorite shows.

Although Welk’s music will still be available on many television channels, it won’t be the same for former band members like Fortin.

“I’ll kind of miss it because it was a really fine program,” Fortin said. “He has done his part for music. His personality made him special. He was a very likeable man who liked the people he was playing for. The crowd was always first with him.”

Lawrence Welk’s band late 20’s...Leo Fortin second from right on trumpet.
Lawrence Welk and his band in the 30’s...Leo Fortin second from right.
Leo Fortin, trumpet; Terry George, trombone; Parnell Grina, tuba; Cliff Moe, clarinet; Jay Jakski, clarinet; Claire (last name unknown), clarinet; John Reese, drums; Walter Bloom, singer; Jerry Burke, organ; Lawrence Welk.
Lawrence Welk and his music men...Leo Fortin far right
Text on photo reads: “Champagne music demands a brass section that sparkles”
Lawrence Welk’s band 1930...Leo Fortin right front.
Lawrence Welk’s band early 30’s...Leo Fortin trumpet fifth from Left.
Lawrence and Watertown's own Leo Fortin in the '30's.
Lawrence Welk reaches for a playbill to autograph at Concord Pavillion June 14, 1982 in what was billed as his farewell performance. Some 5,000 turned out for the show.
Bob and Darlene Burns, Watertown, get a hig from their friend, Mr. Welk. The photo was taken July 21, 1962.



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