The National Music Museum is delighted to announce the acquisition of the Myron Floren Archive and Accordion Collection donated to the museum by his youngest daughter Heidi, who personally transported them to Vermillion during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The eldest of seven children, Floren (1919-2005) was born on his family’s farm near Roslyn, South Dakota, to Norwegian immigrants Ole and Tillie Floren. “All the neighboring families would get together on Saturday nights, roll back the rugs and do a little dancing,” he recalled in a 1997 interview with the Los Angeles Times.
“The thing that intrigued me was this one neighbor who played a little button-box accordion. He played Scandinavian and German waltzes and polkas, and I just sat there watching him—completely fascinated.”
Floren’s first diatonic button accordion was ordered by his father from a mail-order catalog. The largely self-taught youngster quickly became an entertainer at church programs, school events and county fairs—all by the age of 8.
Floren took his piano accordion along with him when he enrolled at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, SD, planning to major in music (1939-1941). Unable to afford the $25 per semester piano rental fee, required of all music majors, Floren opted instead to major in English with a minor in music. To help pay for his tuition, room and board, Floren regularly appeared as the “Melody Man” on four daily radio shows sponsored by KSOO radio station in Sioux Falls. He also opened his own accordion studio in the Williams Music Company store, teaching some 75 students, including his future wife, Berdyne Koerner, who he married in 1945.
The famed accordionist volunteered to entertain U.S. troops in Europe from 1944-1945, by playing with stage bands and professional musicians sponsored by the USO. Floren later recalled that “during the next 14 months, we played shows sometimes only a half-mile from the active front lines. We really ‘wowed the troops’.” (from “The Accordionist Who Played in 32.5 Million Homes,” by Faithe Deffner, online). Floren’s USO uniform is among several of his iconic outfits donated to the NMM.
Following the war, Floren and his wife moved to St. Louis where he joined the Buckeye Four, a popular country music group that performed on radio and a local television station. On the side, Floren taught accordion at the St. Louis College of Music.
The story of Floren’s unscheduled 1950 audition for Lawrence Welk’s Champagne Music Makers band, according to the New York Times, “... was an impromptu performance with the Welk band at [the Casa Loma] ballroom in St. Louis [where Floren and his wife were celebrating her birthday]. Welk, an acquaintance, had spotted him with his wife on the dance floor and invited him to play. During his [“Lady of Spain”] solo, Welk crawled under the band’s grand piano and waved a white handkerchief in surrender [to his affable colleague]. Mr. Floren was offered a job during intermission and held onto it for the next 32 years, making several solo albums on the Welk Music Group’s record label. He collaborated with Welk on a popular compilation of the world’s greatest polkas, and he worked as backup conductor, assistant band director and stage manager [and arranger for the band’s music] – ‘my right- hand man for over 30 years,’ Welk later called him.”
Floren was affectionately dubbed by Welk as “The Happy Norwegian” due to his amiable personality. After moving his family to California, Floren made regular appearances on Lawrence Welk’s long-lived musical variety show (nationally and independently broadcast from 1953-1987). Floren’s performances continue to be seen today on reruns of Welk’s show as they are broadcast in syndication on many public television stations, as well as in selected segments of the show on YouTube. Numerous ephemeral items donated to the NMM highlight his life and career with Lawrence Welk and include Floren’s date- books, show song lists, and show playbooks (1950-2005), as well as fan club scrapbooks (1958-1976), and hundreds of photos, music, albums and CDs.
Floren often mentioned one particular performance in the 1970s, when Lawrence Welk’s orchestra performed to a crowd of 21,000 at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Floren noted that “You could feel the electricity in the air. Lawrence and I were looking out at this crowd from the stage, and he leans over to me and says, ‘Isn’t it wonderful what can happen in this country to a couple of farmers from the Dakotas?’”
Following his career with the Welk show, Floren continued actively to perform with various big bands, as well as with some of the other former Welk show artists. Floren played about 150 concerts a year at that time, annually logging some 150,000 miles on the road. His dynamic determination enabled the octogenarian to continue playing his accordion right up to a few months before he succumbed to cancer in 2005 at his home in Rolling Hills, California.
“It’s like when you hear a good talk or sermon, it soaks in and after a while ... you just feel better” [referring to the sound of his accordion]. “I mean, it gets to you. It’s like the rush you feel playing golf right after making a hole-in-one.”
In recognition of his lifetime accomplishments, Floren was inducted into the Scandinavian-American Hall of Fame (1984), the International Polka Music Hall of Fame (1990), the Merit Award from the Confédération internationale des accordéonistes (1992), and the South Dakota Hall of Fame where he was recognized as a “Champion of Excellence” (1994).