THE LAWRENCE WELK SHOW

U.S. Musical Show

One of television's most enduring musical series, The Lawrence Welk Show, was first seen on network TV as a summer replacement program in 1955. Although the critics were not impressed, Mr. Welk's show went on to last an astonishing 27 years. His format was simple: easy-listening music, what he referred to as "champagne music," and a "family" of wholesome musicians, singers, and dancers.

The show ran on ABC for the first 16 years and was known in the early years as The Dodge Dancing Party. ABC canceled the show in 1971, not because of lack of popularity, but because it was "too old" to please advertisers. ABC's cancellation did little to stop Welk, who lined up more than 200 independent stations for a successful syndicated network of his own.

Part of Welk's success can be attributed to his relationship with viewers. He meticulously compiled a "fever chart" which tallied pro and con comments received from viewers' letters. Performers with favorable comments became more visible on the show. In this way, the viewer also played an important role in his "family" of regulars.

There were many show favorites throughout the years including the Lennon Sisters, who were brought to his attention by his son Lawrence Jr. who was dating Dianne Lennon in 1955. Other favorites included the Champagne Ladies (Alice Lon and Norma Zimmer); accordionist Myron Floren, who was also the assistant conductor; singer-pianist Larry Hooper; singers Joe Feeney and Guy Hovis; violinist Aladdin; dancers Bobby Burgess and Barbara Boylan; and Welk's daughter-in-law, Tanya Falan Welk.

Most of the regulars stayed with the show for years, but a few moved on--or who were told to move on by Mr. Welk. In 1959, for example, Welk fired Champagne Lady Alice Lon for "showing too much knee" on camera. After receiving thousands of protest letters for his actions, he attempted to have Alice return, but she refused.

Welk himself was the target of endless jokes. Born on a North Dakota farm in 1903 of Alsatian immigrant parents, he dropped out of school in the fourth grade. He was 21 years-old before he spoke English. His thick accent and stiff stage presence were often parodied. But viewers were delighted when he played the accordion or danced with one of the women in the audience. Fans also bought millions of his albums which contributed to the personal fortune he amassed, a fortune including a music recording and publishing empire and the Lawrence Welk Country Club Village.

The final episode of The Lawrence Welk Show was produced in February 1982. Followers of his show, however, were still able to enjoy the programs which were repackaged with new introductions by Mr. Welk under the title of Memories with Lawrence Welk. Loyal fans thirsty for more champagne music were pleased. The programs continue to be programmed in syndication on many channels throughout the United States, including many Public Broadcasting channels.

-Debra Lemieux

 


The Lawrence Welk Show
Photo courtesy of the Welk Group

REGULAR PERFORMERS

Lawrence Welk, Host
Alice Lon, Vocals
Norma Zimmer, Vocals
Aladdin, Violin
Jerry Burke, Piano-Organ
Dick Dale, Saxophone
Myron Floren, Accordion
Bob Lido, Violin
Tiny Little, Jr., Piano
Buddy Merrill, Guitar
Jim Roberts, Vocals
Rocky Rockwell, Trumpet, Vocals
The Sparklers Quartet, Vocals
The Lennon Sisters (Dianne, Peggy, Kathy, Janet) Vocals Larry Dean, Vocals
Frank Scott, Piano, Arranger
Joe Feeney, Tenor
Maurice Pearson, Vocals
Jack Imel, Tap Dancer
Alvan Ashby, Hymns
Pete Fountain, Clarinet
Jo Ann Castle, Piano
Jimmy Getzoff, Violin
Bobby Burgess and Barbara Boylan, Dancers
Joe Livoti, Violin
Bob Ralston, Piano-Organ
Art Duncan, Dancer
Steve Smith, Vocals
Natalie Nevins, Vocals
The Blenders Quartet
Lynn Anderson, Vocals
Andra Willis, Vocals
Tanya Falan Welk, Vocals
Sandi Jensen, Vocals
Salli Flynn, Vocals
The Hotsy Totsy Boys
Ralna English Hovis
Mary Lou Metzger
Guy Hovis
Peanuts Hucko
Anacani
Tom Netherton
Ava Barber
Kathy Sullivan
Sheila and Sherry Aldridge
David and Roger Otwell
Jim Turner

PRODUCERS

Sam Lutz, James Hobson, Edward Sobel

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

ABC
July 1955-September 1963                Saturday 9:00-10:00 September 1963-January 1971            Saturday 8:30-9:30 January 1971-September 1971            Saturday 7:30-8:30

FURTHER READING

Coakley, Mary Lewis. Mister Music Maker, Lawrence Welk. With a foreword by Lawrence Welk. Garden City, New York, Doubleday, 1958.

Schwienher, William K. Lawrence Welk, an American Institution. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1980.

Welk, Lawrence, with Bernice McGeehan. Lawrence Welk's Musical Family Album. Engelwood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1977.

 

See also Music on Television