(Music: "Calcutta" by Lawrence Welk)
February 13, 1961 - February 26, 1961
Three weeks after Bert Kaempfert's "Wonderland by Night" was number one, another German instrumental topped the American chart. Written in 1958 by composer Heino Gaze as "Tivoli Melody," it was retitled "Take Me Dreaming," then "Nicolette" and in 1960 the Werner Muller Orchestra recorded it in Germany as "Kalkutta Liegt am Ganges." When Randy Wood, the president of Dot Records, brought the song to Lawrence Welk to record, it received its fifth title: "Calcutta."
The Welk version added a harpsichord, which complicated recording in the studio. A microphone was placed inside the instrument while harpsichordist Frank Scott wore earphones to hear what he was playing. The rest of Welk's orchestra couldn't hear the harpsichord, but it was recorded in one take. The song was intended to be the flip side of "My Grandfather's Clock," until radio stations started playing "Calcutta."
Welk was born on March 11, 1903, in Strasburg, North Dakota, where his parents (Ludwig and Christina) fled after escaping Bismarck's Prussian invasion of Alsace-Lorraine in 1878. They left with the clothes they were wearing and one family possession, handed down from father-to-son for three generations: an antique accordion.
In America, Ludwig and Christina had eight children. One son, Lawrence, showed interest in the accordion, and by the time he was 13 was playing well enough to entertain at community dances and church socials. His parents bought him a "mail-order" accordion, but Welk was strong from farm work, and the fragile instrument could not stand up to his hours of practice. Lawrence promised he would remain on his parents' farm until he was 21 if they would loan him $400 to buy a new, professional accordion.
When he turned 21, Lawrence paid his parents back and left home --- against their better judgment, but with their blessing. At first he was a soloist, but in Aberdeen, South Dakota, he formed his first orchestra. They were invited to appear on a daily radio show on WNAX, a pioneer midwest station. By 1927, Welk's orchestra was well-known on the east coast, where a friend in Pittsburgh said their music had a "bubbly, frothy quality." "Champagne Music" was born.
Welk headed west and in 1951 began a six-week engagement at the Aragon Ballroom in Pacific Ocean Park, California. He stayed 10 years. In 1961, he moved to the Hollywood Palladium. Welk made his local TV debut in 1952 on KTLA and on July 2, 1955, his series was picked up by the ABC network.
Welk's first chart single was "Don't Sweetheart Me" on Decca in 1944. He recorded for Coral from 1953-1959 and then signed with Dot just as the Coral contract was about to expire.
On May 17, 1992, he died in Santa Monica, California, of pneumonia. He was 89.
Reprinted from The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits, copyright © 2003 by Fred Bronson.