Lawrence Welk Biography

11 March 1903, Strasburg, North Dakota, USA, d. 17 May 1992, Santa Monica, California, USA. After achieving a measure of competence on the piano-accordion, Welk formed a dance band in the mid-20s, and soon became immensely popular, with engagements at leading hotels and endless one-night stands on the country’s dancehall circuit. The band was widely criticized in the musical press for its lack of imagination and simplistic arrangements, coupled with occasionally elementary playing. Nevertheless, Welk’s star continued to rise and his became one of the most successful broadcasting bands in the history of American popular music. Welk called his style ‘champagne music’ and he made no concessions to changing tastes, firmly believing that he knew exactly what middle-Americans wanted to hear. He must have been right, because he retained his popularity throughout the 30s and 40s, and in 1951 his regular radio shows transferred smoothly to television. For the next four years he had a weekly show from the Aragon Ballroom at Pacific Ocean Park, and in 1955 switched to ABC with even greater success. In 1961, two of his albums spent the entire year in the charts, with Calcutta holding the number 1 spot for 11 weeks. During his unprecedented chart run between 1956 and 1972, no less than 42 albums made the lists.

During the early 60s there was always a Welk album in the bestsellers. Also in 1961 he signed a lifetime contract with the Hollywood Palladium and a decade later was still on television, by now syndicated across the North American continent. The band’s musical policy, which stood it in such good stead for so many years, had a central core of European music, including waltzes, seasoned with numerous ballads. Although the band’s book occasionally hinted that Welk was aware of other forms of music, even jazz, the bland arrangements he used watered down the original so much that it sounded barely any different from the wallpaper music he usually played. The astonishing longevity of the band’s popular appeal suggests that, however cynical musicians and critics might have been about him, Welk clearly had his finger much closer to the silent majority’s pulse than almost any other band leader in history. He died of pneumonia at his home in 1992.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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