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Lawrence Welk’s Banjo

On this date in 1982 Lawrence Welk kicked-off the New Year with his 31st and last season on television. Although 1982 closed out Welk’s television career, he is still a TV staple, with his programs still running on many public broadcasting stations.

Welk’s career was born in North Dakota, but though he is known for playing the accordion, that was not his first choice. One day the 21-year-old walked into Dahner’s Music Shop in Mandan. His first purchase was a banjo. At the time, the accordion was very popular among musicians in Welk’s hometown of Strasburg and he wanted something different.

It didn’t take long for Welk to realize that the banjo wasn’t for him. He went back to Dahner’s and traded the banjo for a tenor saxophone. But after a short time, he was back in Henry Dahner’s shop. The saxophone was also a no-go. After his initial reluctance, Welk left the shop with an accordion, and the rest, as they say, is history. He realized that with an accordion he could be a solo performer, but he could also fit in as part of an orchestra. Fortunately for Welk’s fans, the instrument gave him more flexibility than either the banjo or the saxophone.

Welk had a great fondness for Henry Dahner. In 1926, long before he was a national figure, he gave Henry an autographed picture. For years Dahner kept the picture on a wall in the shop, never imagining that his customer would one day achieve worldwide fame.

Dahner said that Welk never let that fame go to his head, and Welk never forgot his North Dakota friends. Dahner said Welk preferred a simple home life whenever he wasn’t touring. Underneath, he was still the same country boy who left North Dakota, and he never forgot his roots.

For his part, Dahner had a great love of music. He helped start the first radio station in Mandan in 1922. He was responsible for bringing the first paid band instructor to Mandan High School in 1946. He sold instruments to students at cost to encourage their love of music. He sang in the community chorus, and he was always proud of helping Lawrence Welk get his musical career off to a good start.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher

Sources:

Becky Roesler. Letter to Bill Thomas. 6/29/2019.

Mandan Daily Pioneer. “Welk Bought First Musical Instruments in Mandan.” 6/12/1958.

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