01 Jul 19
Myron Floren was 4 years old when he discovered the accordion in 1923.
Floren — born on Nov. 5, 1919 — was living with his family on a small farm in Roslyn, South Dakota, at the time. A nearby farmer picked up a Hohner “button box” accordion to entertain at one of the informal house dances in the area, and Floren was captivated.
His father bought him his first accordion at age 6, and two years later, he earned $10 for playing it at the Day County Fair in Webster, South Dakota, his first professional gig.
Floren used this as his business card. The Optimist’s Creedwas printed on the back.
By the time he reached college age, Myron’s proficiency with the accordion had become well known. He was teaching area students at the Floren Accordion Studios, one of whom, Berdyne Koerner, would later become his wife.
He also was playing with the band Bill and His Old-Timers, and attending nearby Augustana College. Oh, and he also played accordion on a variety of local radio station music shows.
He wanted to major in music at Augustana, but the music director there looked down his nose at the accordion and wouldn’t allow him to do so. Instead, he majored in English, with a minor in music.
With the outbreak of World War II, Floren, wanting to do his part, tried to enlist as a member of the Army Air Corps. But he discovered that a childhood bout with rheumatic fever made him ineligible for the military.
Driven by the desire to serve, however, he turned to the USO. He joined its group of performers playing for servicemen all over the European Theater, with shows many times staged very close to the front lines. He earned a commendation from the U.S. War Department for his efforts.
After the war, he married Berdyne on Aug. 19, 1945. Their marriage lasted 59 years, until his death in 2005. (Berdyne died in 2011.)
The couple settled in St. Louis in 1946. Myron Floren joined a musical group called the Buckeye Four. He also taught accordion at the St. Louis College of Music.
On March 7, 1950, Floren took his wife to the Casa Loma ballroom, in St. Louis, to celebrate her birthday. Lawrence Welk’s orchestra headlined the show that evening.
A very rare photo of a very young Myron Floren playing his button box on the farm in Roslyn, SD. (Credit: Welk Muscial Family website)
Welk, a North Dakota native, recognized Floren in the audience; the two knew each other from their early days on the upper Midwest musician’s circuit. He called Floren up to the stage to play a few numbers, including his soon-to-be-signature tune, “Lady of Spain.”
Then he tested him by setting sheet music from a medley of tunes in front of him to see how well he could perform while reading unfamiliar music on the fly.
The story goes that Floren played with such skill, including acing the medley, that Welk came out from the wings waving a white flag of mock surrender, and offered him a job later that night.
Undated publicity photo of Lawrence Welk, left, and Myron Floren. (Credit: Findagrave.com website, contributed by John “J-Cat” Griffith)
When asked why he would take on someone more adept than he at the accordion, Welk, according to the Los Angeles Times, responded, “That’s the only kind of people I hire—the ones that play better than I do.”
The pair’s business relationship would last for the next 31 years, until “The Lawrence Welk Show” finally went off the air in 1982. In later years, Floren would act as de facto orchestra leader when Welk was not present.
On May 11, 1951, KTLA broadcast the first weekly telecast of the Welk show. Welk had moved to Los Angeles, as had Floren, who eventually settled in a ranch house on three-plus acres in Rolling Hills. He would live there for the rest of his life.
Floren’s accordion wizardry made him a valued featured performer on Welk’s show from its earliest days. Welk even gave him a nickname: “The Happy Norwegian.”
Sign in Floren’s hometown of Roslyn, South Dakota. 2014 photo. (Credit: Myron Floren Facebook page)
But television prominence never dimmed Floren’s passion for the accordion, nor did it ever inflate his ego.
The modest Floren spent countless hours coaching young music students in the South Bay. He worked with groups such as the Torrance Accordionettes, sponsored by the Bettie Thomas Studios, performing for years at the group’s annual springtime “Vacation Varieties” show in Torrance.
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He also made many appearances with local musical groups, such as the South Bay Symphony, and directed the choir at his Lutheran church when his schedule permitted.
Torrance Heraldad, April 7, 1955, Page 10. (Credit: Torrance Historical Newspaper and Directories Archive database, Torrance Public Library)
Floren continued playing live dates throughout the country with and without Welk’s orchestra, as well as composing and recording original music for the accordion. He released many records under his own name, as well as the numerous albums he recorded with Welk.
His popularity held steady over the years, even as other featured performers on Welk’s show became prominent: Pete Fountain, Norma Zimmer, The Lennon Sisters, Joe Feeney, Guy and Ralna, Jo Ann Castle, and former Mouseketeer Bobby Burgess and his dance partner Cissy King. (Burgess would later marry one of Floren’s daughters, Kristie.)
Floren received many honors during his life, but it’s hard to imagine that his naming to the International Accordionist Hall of Fame in 2004 wasn’t one of his proudest moments.
He died of cancer on July 23, 2005. A month later, on Aug. 6, a memorial service at Ascension Lutheran Church in Rancho Palos Verdes celebrated Floren’s life, using pieces he had recorded over the years as backing music for the ceremony.
Sources: Accordion Man, by Myron Floren with Randee Floren, Stephen Greene Press, 1981; Daily Breeze files; “In Memory of Myron Floren: The Accordionist Who Played in 32.5 Million Homes,” By Faithe Deffner, Accordions.com website; Los Angeles Times files; “Myron Floren Biography,” Encyclopedia of World Biography website; “Myron Floren,” FindaGrave.com website; Torrance Herald files.
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