For many Americans, the Lawrence Welk Show conjures up fond memories of a bygone era. Many remember the bubbles floating across the stage and the big band led by Mr. Welk himself. An integral part of Americana, the Lawrence Welk Show is still on air in a syndicated format some 50 years after first being televised. In addition to our fond memories of Mr. Welk, we also remember the Welk Musical Family, or the show’s singers and band members. One member of this family, Tom Netherton, was a regular on the show starting in 1973, and was featured on the Lawrence Welk Show until Mr. Welk retired in 1982. What we may not remember is that Tom Netherton started his professional musical career not with Lawrence Welk, but with another famous North Dakotan, Harold Shafer at the Medora Musical.
Tom Netherton was born on this date, 1947 in Munich, Germany to an Army family stationed in the country following the Second World War. Tom followed in his father’s footsteps and became an Army officer. During his time in the service Tom Netherton decided his career would not be in the Armed Forces, but rather in the entertainment business. After First Lieutenant Netherton left the Army, he joined Harold and Shelia Schafer’s Medora Musical Company in 1973. During the summer’s season Tom greatly impressed the Schafers with his musical and entertainment abilities. When the Schafers learned that Lawrence Welk would be traveling through the state, they arranged a meeting between the young Netherton and Mr. Welk at a golf course in Bismarck. Lawrence Welk immediately saw potential in Tom Netherton and invited the young singer to perform on his show at the St. Paul Civic Center a few nights later. Tom’s “audition” before a live audience of 19,000 was so successful that Lawrence Welk offered Mr. Netherton a chance to join his show on a more permanent basis. Netherton’s first appearance as a regular was on the 1973 Christmas special. Tom Netherton immediately became a fan favorite, and continued with the show for a total of eight years.
After Lawrence Welk retired in 1982, Tom Netherton moved on to a successful solo career; performing at opera houses, civic centers, college campuses and state fairs across the nation. Mr. Netherton also found success with theater, performing in such musicals as “Carousel” and “Oklahoma,” and has been featured on TV commercials for Nabisco’s Triscuits and Rosemilk Skincare Lotion. Fluent in French, he is also one of the few Americans to perform on the “La Chance Aux Chansons,” a popular French variety program. However, the entertainer who made his professional start here in North Dakota will always be best remembered as the talented handsome baritone on the Lawrence Welk Show.
Written by Lane Sunwall