Lawrence Welk: Champagne Music, Ovaltine Politics

Rogers, Bradley. 2022. Lawrence Welk: Champagne Music, Ovaltine Politics. Journal of Popular Music Studies, 34(1), pp. 141-166. ISSN 1524-2226 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This essay explores the musical politics of Lawrence Welk, the bandleader whose television show was a mainstay of American popular culture from 1955 through 1982. I argue that Welk’s interests in gender, family, and work—both philosophically and musically—reveal the maestro as a harbinger of late twentieth-century political and cultural discourse. I focus on Welk’s transition (around 1970–1973) from his trademark champagne sound—which featured woodwinds and ornamentation—to a “Big Band Sound,” which emphasized the unison open brass. Around the same time, he stopped referring to his ensemble as “The Champagne Music Makers” and began calling them his “Musical Family.” I argue that his “Big Band Sound” was in fact a musical articulation of his “Musical Family”—and that Welk instituted both of these changes in response to what he perceived as the decline of American work ethic and sexual morality. I suggest that Welk’s champagne sound, which once signified whiteness, was now feminized and seen as emblematic of indolent hedonism. He sought to purge this feminization—and this aversion to work—precisely by adopting the more “masculine” brassy sound. I also show how he deployed family acts—and his managerial scheme of a “Family Plan”—to promote his conservative ideals about work and the family. In this way, Welk provided the sound of the Nixonian “silent majority.” I conclude by noting how three elements of Welk’s show—his fondness for mistakes, the emphasis on visual spectacle, and the erratic temporality of syndication—provide the potential for a counter-reading of his efforts.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):


Lawrence Welk, sweet band, jazz, big band music, family, gender, capitalism, work, labor, neoliberalism

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Theatre and Performance (TAP)


March 2022Published

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

14 Jun 2024 14:33

Last Modified:

14 Jun 2024 15:28

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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