Today my nine year old daughter told me that the worst day of her life would be if the Lawrence Welk Show was discontinued. She inherited her quirky personality from her parents. What she really enjoys is making fun of the costumes and corny acts with her father. They egg each other on. But the show is a testament to the clean cut, homespun mentality of many families in the 1960’s and 1970’s. It actually went on the air in 1955 and lasted all the way to 1982. And of course, like so many other iconic cultural events, had a strong tie to Pittsburgh.
The William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh was the place where Champagne Music was born, according to Lawrence Welk himself. The term “Champagne Music” was derived from an engagement at the hotel, which has since been renamed The Omni William Penn. The term supposedly caught on when a dancer referred to this band’s sound as “light and bubbly as champagne.” This planted a seed of genius in a hotel employee who decided to activate a “bubble machine” from a prop left over from a 1920s movie premiere and history was made. Welk described his band’s sound, saying “We still play music with the champagne style, which means light and rhythmic. We place the stress on melody; the chords are played pretty much the way the composer wrote them. We play with a steady beat so that dancers can follow it.
He must have known what he was doing because his show is still watched weekly by millions of nostalgic viewers and Pittsburgh continues to attract some of the finest musicians in the world.