By Lawrence Welk with Bernice McGeehan
Published by Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1971, softcover, 404 pages
"My earliest clean memory is of crawling across the floor of our sod farmhouse toward my father, who was smiling and holding out his accordion. And I can still recall the wonder and delight I felt when he let me press my fingers down on the keys, which were round and shiny like pearl buttons, and squeeze out a few wavering notes." --- Lawrence Welk (1903 - 1992)
Lawrence Welk was a son of Germans from Russia pioneers who immigrated from the Catholic Black Sea German village of Selz, Kutschurgan Enclave, South Russia [today Limanoskoe, near Odessa, Ukraine] in 1893, later homesteading in south-central North Dakota near Strasburg, Emmons County. His great-grandparents, Moritz and Magdalena Welk, immigrated in 1808 from their village in Alsace, France to Ukraine.
Lawrence's parents were Ludwig and Christina (Schwahn) Welk. Besides being a farmer, Ludwig Welk aprenticed as a blacksmith like his father in Ukraine. Eight children were born in the sodhouse which is still standing on their homestead. Still living today is Lawrence's youngest sister, Eva, who has generously contributed some of her cherished memorabilia from her brother to The Lawence Welk Collection at NDSU established in 1992.
Fern Renner Welk (Mrs. Lawrence Welk) is also of Germans from Russia ancestry, growing up on a farm south of Mandan, ND near St. Anthony. Her parents were born in the former Catholic German villages of the Beresan Enclave, South Russia.
This poor farm boy, whose love of music motivated him to leave home and follow his dream, built both his orchestra and the "Musical Family," which attracted and held the largest and most loyal audience in television history.
By the age of 17, he knew his desire was to make music his life's work. He talked his father into buying him a $400 accordion in return for a pledge to stay on the family farm for the next four years, plus turning over profits he made playing at barn dances. In 1924, on his 21st birthday, Lawrence Welk was ready to leave home. He had little money and could not speak English, having been raised in the German-speaking community of Strasburg. Musical talent, an overwhelming desire to succeed, and family values instilled in him by his strict German-Catholic upbringing were more than enough.
His first career break came when George T. Kelly tapped him for "The Peerless Entertainers," a touring company of musicians and actors. From there, Lawrence advanced to play on WNAX radio in Yankton, South Dakota in the 1930s. Welk's "Novelty Orchestra" became the "Honolulu Fruit Gum Orchestra," and then, in its final incarnation, became now legendary "The Champagne Music of Lawrence Welk."
As one of the big bands of the 1940s, his orchestra played for ten years at the Trianon Ballroom in Chicago. In 1951 his musical band appeared on television station KTLA in Los Angeles after a late-night movie. The response was tremendous! For the next four years, the band's popularity amassed a huge following in southern California.
During 1955, The Lawrence Welk Show began its lengthy run on ABC television, where it remained for sixteen years, until 1971. The show was then syndicated to more nation-wide stations. Audiences all over America recognized what local audiences had known for years. The Welk band played the styles of music which many Americans loved.
And the country embraced and cherished Lawrence! His shyness, his accent, his smile, his delight in his performance, and his sometimes quaint English endeared him to viewers. "Wunnerful, wunnerful!" and "Ah-one and ah-two" became part of America's vocabulary.