Lawrence Welk (March 11, 1903 – May 17, 1992) was an American musician, accordionist, bandleader, and television impresario, hosting The Lawrence Welk Show from 1955 to 1982. His style came to be known to his large number of radio, television, and live-performance fans as "champagne music."
Born on a farm in Strasburg, North Dakota, the sixth of nine children, his parents were Alsatian Germans, and he dropped out of school in fourth grade. Since virtually everyone in his community was German, he grew up speaking German, not learning English until he was 21. As a result, his unique accent never left him. When he was 17, he realized that he would never be a farmer, and wanted to learn music instead, becoming an accordion player. Apparently, his father had different ideas, as he did not leave North Dakota until he was 21.
In later years, he would donate money to his birthplace, Strasburg, but always conditioned his bequest that none of the money would go to restoring his family's farm. Of his life between 1924 and 1955, not much is know, except that he started his band and made a good living, developing his trademarks "Ah wun, Ah two" introduction, and his Champaign bubble machine.
"Bubbles In The Wine" aka: "Lawrence Welk Theme", this had been his band's theme song since the 1930s.
His music show started in 1955 as a summer-replacement show, and quickly grew audience appeal, going on for an incredible 27 continuous years. His show business formula was simple: easy-listening family music (what he called "champagne music"), and wholesome musicians, singers, and dancers.
Although written off as a hick by music critics, Welk was a shrewd businessman. He was a demanding taskmaster dedicated to producing a nostalgic, wholesome show. He maintained a roster of musical regulars, including ragtime pianist JoAnn Castle, accordion player Myron Floren, singer Norma Zimmer and Joe Feeney, organist Bob Ralston, guitarist Buddy Merrill, and the singing group the Lennon Sisters. George Cates was Welk's musical director throughout the show's 25-year run.
In the early years, the show was called "The Dodge Dancing Party" after the sponsor, Dodge automobiles, and as his success grew, the name was changed to "The Lawrence Welk Show." ABC canceled his show in 1971, after 17 years, because the show sponsors and network directors wanted to gear the show to younger, more urban audiences, and the majority of Welk's audiences were older people. In a bold move, Welk then began producing the show for first run syndication, and he was quickly back on the air, where he remained for eleven more years, until his retirement in 1982. Many of the stations that carried his syndicated show were ABC affiliates.
He co-wrote several books with Bernice McGheehan, including "Wunnerful! Wunnerful!" (1969), "My America, Your America" (1971), and "My Musical Family Album" (1978).He accumulated a vast real-estate empire and acquired royalty rights to 20,000 songs, including the entire body of Jerome Kern's work. He founded the Lawrence Welk Resort and Country Club, in Escondido, California, and a second resort in Branson, Missouri, which is operated by his son, Lawrence Jr.
He died in Santa Monica, California, of pneumonia at the age of 89.
(Info edited from various sources mainly Kit and Morgan Benson)