Every Friday night we smooth our way into the weekend with music, the universal language. These selections demonstrate that despite what is being passed off as art today, there is plenty of really good music available. Come along and enjoy.
This Monday marks the 29th anniversary of the death of bandleader and TV celebrity Lawrence Welk.
Whoa whoa whoa, Kevin! Are you actually devoting your Friday night music feature… to him?
Well, as a matter of fact, I am.
You do realize you’re taking a big chance?
Kev, Kev, Kev. Your audience, man. They may have already abandoned you. Probably never even got this far into the blog.
Hey, the guy was a star.
Yeh, but he wasn’t cool or hip. Corny. Hokey. Campy. Kinda cheesy. And those costumes…crazy.
That’s what made his program so popular. I would also submit wholesome. Clean. Successful. With talented, gifted musicians. And I’ve got examples. So travel back with me to a time that was sweeter, more innocent that gave generations many memories.
Back when I was a kid television choices were limited. You had NBC, CBS, ABC, public TV, and an independent local station. That was it.
In the Fischer household there were certain couldn’t miss TV shows. Like “The Fugitive.” “The Ed Sullivan Show.” “The Hollywood Palace.” “The Man from UNCLE.” “The Avengers.” “The Big Valley.” “Batman.”
And on Saturday nights, “The Lawrence Welk Show.” A regular ritual, our family warmly sat together , never missing a minute of the cornball hour.
Lawrence Welk was inescapable. Even if we paid a visit to a relative’s house on a Saturday there was a 100% chance the TV there would be tuned to ABC, Welk’s home for 27 years. And there I was, being a good boy, but secretly I was in my room with my transistor, listening to the Beatles on WRIT or WOKY. Later I would realize how skilled those Welk performers were, especially the orchestra that when unleashed had quite a sound. Welk called it champagne music.
Never an innovator, Mr. Welk’s criteria for success was to keep it sweet and simple: play the proven standards the people want to hear, in the simplest of arrangements, and in less than three minutes just in case someone did not like a particular song. It was safe-and-sane TV entertainment, painfully predictable and stable and wholesome.
For that, he went virtually without praise from within the TV industry itself. His reward came from his audiences, those who could not wait for their weekly taste of ‘uh-one and uh-two’ accompanied by a succession of Champagne Ladies, accordionists and talented instrumentalists.
—Tom Gorman, The Baltimore Sun
Welk had a different theme to his program every week and often paid tribute to a singer, musician, musical group, or holiday.
In addition to the orchestra there was plenty of singing and dancing. A popular feature was the dancing team of Bobby Burgess and one of the three partners he performed with every week. One of the original Mickey Mouse Club Mousketeers, Burgess won a 10-week contest on the Welk show in 1961, dancing with Barbara Boylan. Both were 19 at the time.
Here Burgess is paired with Cissy King.
Welk wasn’t nuts about the instrumental, but his music director George Cates told him that he’d record it if Welk didn’t. Fortunately for Welk he changed his mind. “Calcutta” went to #1 for a few weeks in February of 1961.
Time for a short break from the Welk program with a group that appeared as the bandleader’s guests a few times. John Williams conducts the Boston Pops that accompany the sweet harmonies of the Mills Brothers. From the “They don’t write them liked they used to” file.
Now watch and listen to Welk’s treatment that really swings.
Mr. Welk was an unlikely candidate for national fame, but parlayed his German accent, charisma and a keen discernment of Middle America’s musical taste into a business empire founded on television, records and music publishing. At first uneasy as a television personality, fearful that his fourth-grade education would betray him, he soon enough became smitten by the love affair he developed with his audiences.
Still, he was ever gracious to his fans and the proud patriarch of his so-called Musical Family of studio musicians, dancers, singers, entertainers and support crew members, serving as a gentle but firm disciplinarian and preacher of conservative values.
Long-time band member Barney Liddell, a Roman Catholic, recalled Mr. Welk’s reaction when he divorced his wife and later remarried. Mr. Welk, himself a Catholic, fired Mr. Lidell from the band after he announced his intention to remarry.
“He said I’d be living in sin and that’s not right. But then he talked to three guys in the band — a Jew, a Methodist and a Presbyterian — and they said, ‘Why don’t you let him run his life and you just run his trombone.’ So he called me back on my wedding day and said I had my job back.”
Norma Zimmer, who became his last Champagne Lady in 1960, said that Mr. Welk would seldom lose his temper. “He was always in control. You knew he was upset [only] because he’d just beat his leg with his baton. That was his sign that things weren’t right.”
—Tom Gorman, The Baltimore Sun
That’s it for this week.
Have a wunnerful weekend.
We close with one the best musical pieces of all-time and a huge favorite of my late father.