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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • FLY CANADIAN PACIFIC, c. 1950s

Champagne Music: 1957

Champagne Music: 1957

April 1957. "Entertainer Lawrence Welk playing accordion with the Lennon Sisters." (Or, as he would introduce them, "The lovely little Lennon Sisters.") Color transparency by Earl Theisen for the Look magazine assignment "Lawrence Welk: Nobody Likes Him Except the Public." View full size.

 

Nix on Welk

"Nobody liked him etc." My mother, a classical pianist, forbade us from watching this show. You should have seen what happened if we switched by the channel while JoAnn Castle was playing and paused too long to watch. My mother is gone. I now watch the show every Saturday night and enjoy it very much.

Lucky little girl

My mom and dad loved this show; I even received Lennon Sister paper dolls for Christmas one year.

The Lennon Sisters

Ah, the Lennon Sisters -- they were my favorite paper dolls as a kid, and I never missed them on Lawrence Welk show: Dianne, Peggy, Kathy, and Janet. Janet and Kathy still sometimes perform with younger sister Mimi. There were eleven children in the family all told, so the money the girls received no doubt came in handy (scale wages). They probably got a commission on the paper dolls too! They appeared regularly on The Andy Williams Show later.

Wunerful! Wunerful!

The only way I knew about Lawrence Welk was Stan Freberg's spoof on him. It's nice to see what he actually looked like, with his bubbles.

Fond memories

Until his death about 7 years ago, I played next to a lovely old man who had played clarinet and tenor sax in a number of famous dance and swing bands during the 1930s and 40s. He was so humble and encouraging to a fellow clarinetist of modest skill and talent who never rose above community band level.

I, on the other hand, was awed by his tales of his musical past. He claimed he was no longer the musician he once had been but I played beside him long enough to know he never missed a note. When he played Boots Randolph's "Yakety Sax" on his tenor sax he just about knocked me out of my chair.

He told me that once when his group finished a late night gig at a dance hall, Louis Armstrong up showed with his trumpet. They all jammed the rest of the night. I've known a lot of musicians and was never impressed a whit by them. But this man truly impressed me.

But he had his limits. He told me that around 1950 he was asked to join Lawrence Welk's orchestra. "I told them, 'Absolutely not'," he said to me. "I never could stand that champagne bubble music."

And a-One and a-Two!

A few years ago, I corresponded by email with a former Welk rhythm guitar player, and he was very proud, and rightfully so, of the quality of the players in that organization.

Worth looking for online is the Welk Show boy-girl duo singing One Toke Over The Line. It's a classic!

Alice Lon (1926-1981)

"The Champagne Lady" was still my 90 year old paternal grandfather's favorite Lawrence Welk performer in this year! He did enjoy the Lennon Sisters, though, as we sat in our rockers in front of the fire watching on his metal Firestone with rabbit ears.

For those only familiar with the schmaltzy music, here is 25 year old Welk's (born in 1903) first recording from 1928, playing in the much hotter style than which was popular later:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u66wBebZQ3Y

Another stellar talent on his show from 1953 to 1959 was Dick Kesner and his Magic Stradivarius. I was taking violin lessons then and my music teacher and I would both rhapsodize every week during my lesson about the beautiful solo he had performed during the weekend show. Sadly, Dick was killed in a car accident just a couple of blocks from his home not to long after this show:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8jP5PI-hFc

The sum was less than the parts

My father, who led jazz and dance bands in the 1920s and '30s, was an habitual watcher of Welk's TV programs. When I asked him once how he could abide such schmaltz, he replied that while the arrangements were often pedestrian and Welk's stage personality unbearably ingratiating, the quality of his sidemen was extraordinary. Even Myron Floren, who played an instrument my father could not ordinarily abide, got an enthusiastic thumbs-up from one who by then had become in most of his views the consummate curmudgeon.

Yup, not so bad at all

Watch for the occasions when guitarist Neil Levang gets to cut loose. Very accomplished guy, funny suits notwithstanding.

Stop the bubble machine!

The thing I hate is that about a month after this photo was taken, NBC cancelled Sid Caesar because Welk's ABC show was clobbering him in the ratings. On the other hand, Welk inspired one of Stan Freberg's funniest records, so there's that.

Not so bad

They may have played schmaltzy bland arrangements of a lot of stuff, but on occasion the band decided to really swing. And when they did they showed off the very solid musicianship they all possessed. Darn good band!
And please, it was the LUFFLY Liddle Lennon Sisters!

It is now 57 years later

And they are still airing his shows on PBS on Saturday nights. The public sometimes made fun of him and his corny entertainment but it seems quite remarkable that people are still fascinated with his brand of innocent amusement, even after all this time. You were able to watch his shows with audiences from infancy to elderly, without worrying about offending anyone, a rarity today. So what if the band wore orange, red or yellow tuxedos, their performances were fun.

String section

Did the Tailor misplace his/her Scissors?

 
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