Bandleader-accordionist Lawrence Welk was the musical voice of a faraway time in America, before punk rock, hip-hop, and Lady Gaga. The son of German immigrants from the Ukraine, Welk was born in Strasburg, North Dakota on March 11, 1903. The first big break in Welk’s long and storied career came in 1927, when Lawrence Welk and his Hotsy Totsy Boys began a six-year stint at radio station WNAX in Yankton, South Dakota. In 1951 “The Lawrence Welk Show” premiered on KTLA-TV in Los Angeles. Welk’s television program went national with ABC in 1955, and production of new shows continued for nearly three decades. Through the magic of syndication, home video, and the internet, the “Champagne Music Man” blows his signature bubbles to this day.
I was born of a generation that had long dismissed Welk’s music, relegating it to thrift shops and those uncomfortable visits to your grandmother’s house. (And yet, in the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that a few years ago I stayed at the Lawrence Welk Resort in Branson, Missouri. And liked it!) Everything old becomes new again: the Lawrence Welk image was appropriated in Darren Hacker’s underground film “Velvet Welk”, which marries footage of Welk and company to the Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray.”
But let us stop for a moment to consider the powder-blue suits without irony, and celebrate the Welk ensemble for their innocence and earnestness. Let us appreciate the strange wonder that can be found in even the most commercial of entertainments: have you ever really listened to the lyrics to “Frankfurter sandwiches,” performed on the show by Peggy Lennon & Charlie Parlato in 1967? Does Lawrence Welk still have something to say to people of the 21st Century? Perhaps – I learned about his birthday through a Welk afficionado on Twitter.
The Music Division holds in its collections several Welk biographies and a variety of related sheet music, just part of over 152 Lawrence Welk titles that can be found at the Library of Congress. Among the more notable titles is The Lawrence Welk show. Halloween party 1965, and, under the subject heading Welk, Lawrence, 1903-1992 –Juvenile fiction, Lawrence Welk’s Bunny Rabbit concert. Have a wunnerful, wunnerful belated birthday Mr. Welk!
- Sanders, Coyne Steven, and Weissman, Ginny. Champagne Music: The Lawrence Welk Show. St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1985.
- Schweinher, William K. Lawrence Welk, an American institution. Nelson-Hall, Chicago, 1980.
- Zehnpfennig, Gladys. Lawrence Welk, champagne music man. T.S. Denison & Company, Inc., Minneapolis, 1968.