Lawrence Welk Biography
Lawrence Welk was born on March 11, 1903 and died May 17, 1992, but his legacy of "The Lawrence Welk Show" continues to live on through public television.
Lawrence Welk was born to immigrant parents on March 11, 1903, in a sod farmhouse near Strasburg, North Dakota. He was one of eight children born to Christine and Ludwig Welk. Early on, his father taught him to play the accordion, and by the time he was 13 he was earning money playing at local social gatherings. In his autobiography, "Wunnerful, Wunnerful" he wrote: "My earliest clear memory is of crawling toward my father who was holding his accordion. I can still recall the wonder and delight I felt when he let me press my fingers on the keys and squeeze out a few wavering notes."
At the age of 17, he talked his father into buying him an accordion of his own, promising to stay on the farm until he was 21 and turn over all the money he made playing in local bands. "On March 11, 1924, I woke up early in the morning, "Lawrence wrote in his autobiography. "I was 21-years-old...My father and I had a bargain, and we had each kept to the letter of the spirit of agreement. He had kept his word and I was free to go. Now it was up to me to prove that my dreams were more than dreams...I jumped into the buggy and began the three-mile trip to Strasburg." He had no money and spoke only German, but he possessed an overwhelming desire to succeed. He formed a band, and also bought and operated a series of small businesses, which failed. His luck improved, however, as he led bigger bands.
Then on one of his engagements in Yankton, South Dakota, he met a beautiful young nurse named Fern Renner, who eventually became his wife in 1931.
By 1938, his band had grown to 10 pieces, and Lawrence managed to get it a booking in Pittsburgh at the William Penn Hotel. It was there that the band found the name "The Champagne Music of Lawrence Welk." In 1940, they were offered a two-week job at the Trianon Ballroom in Chicago, which turned into a 10-year engagement. So, Lawrence and Fern and their three children, Shirley, Donna and Larry, settled down in River Forest, Illinois, and enjoyed one of the happiest times of their lives. Unfortunately, toward the end of the decade, the popularity of the big bands started to dwindle, and Lawrence's band hit the road again.
In 1951, Lawrence's agent, Sam Lutz, arranged a late-night television appearance over KTLA in Los Angeles. The response was amazing. The following morning Lawrence was approached by at least 20 people who said they had seen the band on TV and were coming down to the ballroom to join the fun. Lawrence felt at that point that he had found the medium he had been searching for--television.
Four years later, in 1955, when Lawrence was 52 years old, "The Lawrence Welk Show" began its long affair with the American public. Audiences adored the show as a reassuring link to a simpler, happier time. Some of the show's popularity, however, must also stem from the fact that Lawrence demanded hard work, discipline, and excellence from all of his performers. He also credited some of his success to his childhood poverty, saying that a person learns a lot form a little hardship.
He refused to advertise for beer or cigarettes, and he never hired a comedian, for fear of off-color or unpopular jokes. He deleted what he considered to be suggestive lyrics from the orchestra's material. He definitely had the right instincts, because the show built up an enormous following. After 16 hugely successful years on ABC, the network decided that the show's audience appeal was dwindling, and let him go. He went into syndication, where his audience became even larger, and held top ratings for another 11 years. After Lawrence retired in 1982, the show still continued to attract a phenomenally large audience. Today, the show is one of the most popular features of public television, where it has aired since 1987.