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"I'm forever blowing bubbles," by Jaan Kenbrovin. New York, Jerome H. Remick, 1919.
"I'm forever blowing bubbles," by Jaan Kenbrovin. New York, Jerome H. Remick, 1919.

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!


Comments (17)

  1. Wow! You brought back some memories. I’m 55 and I remember watching the Lawrence Welk show with my parents every Saturday night. Even though the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan, the variety of music on Welk held my interest even as a kid. And anyhow, Ed was on Sunday nite. Ok, Ok, admittedly we only could receive one channel on the TV and if there was one at that time, Dad would have had the remote control. Or, if the neighborhood woodpecker was up on the antenae, Dad would send me out to shoo it away as not to disturb the reception for the Welk show. All in all, very pleasant memories and quality time with the family.

  2. Hi John – always appreciate the comments!

  3. Like Captain John, I also watched the Lawrence Welk Show every week when I was a kid. Although I loved the entire show, my focus was always on keyboardist Frank Scott, who often played this newfangled (to me) instrument called a “harpsichord.” I was mesmerized by it and I tuned in to the show every week to see if Frank would be playing this harpsichord thing–my first exposure to the instrument. I still enjoy his playing and have 2 of Frank’s Welk selections on my IPod: “Moon River” and “Calcutta.” Now if I could only find Frank’s harpsichord rendition of “I Could Have Danced All Night!”

  4. Thanks for the reminiscences Norman!

  5. I also watched Welk with my parents. I’m suddenly reminded of the *one* time the show ever featured any other musicians besides the Welk “family.” The group was The Chantays, and they performed “Pipeline.” The explanation, apparently, was that the Chantays were also on the Dot record label, and Dot wanted to plug the song. But I don’t remember any other Dot artists ever being on the show.

  6. I too disliked Welk’s music growing up. It was not cool. A few years ago, however, I discovered that Welk dated one of my relatives in 1925 and that he wrote about her in his 1977 autobiography, “Wunnerful, Wunnerful,” pp. 45 – 6.

    I found the book very interesting. I thank him for giving me the information that confirmed a family story. I recommend the book for those interested in the early struggles of musicians and the challenges facing children of immigrants trying to speak English in public.

  7. The only time I ever found the Lawrence Welk show interesting was when someone in the trombone section screwed up. I also found a comment he made about Joe Feeney interesting–that if he’d caught him earlier, he might have been able to help him be a better singer. The insipid quality of the music and musical productions was appalling. What I liked about the show was the black tap dancer, although he was repetitive after awhile; the guy with a deep bass voice; and the fact that it helped me learn *every* song from the 1890s through the early 1960s, although I probably would have learned them all anyway. I hated that show.

  8. As a child I watched Mr. Welk with my parents. The show was okay but I found some of the singers scary for some reason. Each time the ‘Irish Tenor’ sang I left the room.

  9. Love the show, and the PBS series is produced here in Oklahoma. My late grandmother loved the program, and always maintained that this was one first-rate orchestra whenever others portrayed it as simply corny.” If anybody ever has any doubts as to the quality of the Welk musicians, he/she need only to hear the album made with Johnny Hodges, the world’s greatest saxophonist in the mid-1960’s. These programs are the epitome of “nostalgia,” as well as being as entertaining as when they were originally aired, and thankfully, the quality of the Welk orchestra seems now to be fully-appreciated. I also enjoy observing that the male members of the cast provide a greater number of comb-overs, toupees and dye jobs than you’d find at a Hair Club for Men convention.

  10. loved getting wacked out at my grandparents house and getting into the music. too much

  11. Lawrence welk.. OMG! 🙂

  12. What year did Lawrence Welk attempt rock and roll music? I remembered a reference someone made to a failure at Rock n Roll, but cannot reference the year. Please assist. Thanks

  13. Watched the Lawrence Welk Show every week as a family, and dreamed of entertainment industries during formal dance classes.
    Hoping someone can remember what year he had a time in Rock n Roll,? Please can someone help me in referencing the years of his Rock band, not the big band, his Rock n Roll time?
    He certainly goes under success and longest running shows.

    • Thanks for your interest and question, Louise! Our music reference librarians are eager to answer questions like yours – please email us via Ask a Librarian to start a conversation with one of them:

  14. Hi, Carol,

    I apologize for the delayed response. You’d need permission from the Well estate to use his image for any commercial purpose.

    Pat Padua

    I’d like to honor Lawrence Welk by putting his image on a tee shirt on Zazzle. Do you know if his photos are open to use as we want or is there a trademark or copyright issue? i want to do right by the great man!

  15. I watched several episodes of Lawrence on a PBS affiliate in Dallas in the late nineties, and I have to say, it has remarkable appeal in its intricate attention to detail as a class presentation. Immaturely scorned as dated kitsch, one quickly learns to appreciate, and respect earnest effort in an artform as subjective as music. Big band sophistication, and tight arrangement are preferred to the sterile, computed, repetitive pap that fails to pass as art these days. KERA should bring Lawrence back! I miss his style.

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