top of page

Music career extends 76+ years

Big Band music has been a part of Burt Lundberg’s life since 1934. His musical career started when he was a 15-year-old kid in high school, and it was all thanks to the mumps. He wasn’t able to go to school while he had the mumps and his dad brought him a banjo just to kill the time. Lundberg really enjoyed playing that banjo. “I monkeyed around with that a little bit and then I learned to play that and found out I could join an old time band in Willmar.” That was in 1935, and things just escalated from there. Lundberg, 91, played banjo with Net’s Royal Vagabonds Band for a while and later played piano and accordion with Matt DeLong’s Big Band. In 1937, he played accordion with The Detroiters Big Band, piano with the Don Carruth Swing Club in 1938, and accordion with Ronnies Rhythm  Rascals out of Willmar in 1939. He said they played at what was then known as the Sheep Shedde in Olivia, six nights a week. Lundberg is accomplished on most instruments and today plays the keyboard because it’s very light and easy to take places. “You don’t have to carry it around with a big suburban.” Lundberg even has the distinction of having played with Lawrence Welk, and he auditioned for a spot with Welk’s orchestra a few years back. That was back in the 30s, he said, when Welk was in Clara City. “I just sat in with the big guys, I didn’t play with them steady. This was just sitting in with the big guys.” Lundberg said he had his accordion along, he joined them on the stage, which was suspended from the ceiling and which he had to climb a ladder to get to, and they played for an hour or two. Lundberg even auditioned for a job with Welk, but the job went to Myron Floren instead. “That was an experience that was interesting. He (Welk) went to the top and we just stayed here in this area.” But years later, Lundberg said, he was called ‘the Lawrence Welk of Kandiyohi County.’ Lundberg said its more peaceful in his world living in New London rather than going to the top. “Maybe that’s why I’m living so long, I’m in a peaceful area and I don’t have to put up with a lot of things that are stressful.” Lundberg also played with Jimmy Thomas and the Hassle Dixieland Band in 1940. At that point they switched from playing in the Willmar area to the St. Cloud area where he played with Andy Paul, Al May and the Carl Colby Big Band. From 1942 to 1945 Lundberg was with the 91st Division Army Band in Italy playing for concerts, marching and dance. He played trumpet in the band and the guys in the band were from Big Bands like Glen Miller, Harry James and some of those. “I played with them and it was a thrill to be able to sit in with them.” In order to be in the army band you have to play an instrument, Lundberg said, “You can’t play an accordion for marching…you can’t be running around with an accordion.” While in the Army, Lundberg played French Horn in the 60-piece concert band, trumpet in the marching band, and played in a Dixie Show Band. He also played in the general’s personal band, entertaining at officers’ parties, for enlisted men and at the Officers Club. Lundberg said the general even brought him to an accordion factory and he was able to pick out a trumpet he wanted and the Division paid for it. Lundberg said at that time they (Lundberg and a guitar player) were also sent to the front lines where they played for the troops. He said they played in the trenches, and they could see the Germans up in the mountains. They also played in hospitals and at a rest center in Italy. He returned to St. Cloud in 1946 and from then to 1955 he played with the Jess Skelton Trio at the Modern Supper Club, 400 Club, Commodore, Gladstone, Press Club, Coliseum, all the clubs in the St. Cloud Area. While playing in St. Cloud Lundberg also had a jam session with Harry James. “He played at the Coliseum and afterwards we went to a phone booth and he called Betty Grable to wish her a happy birthday.” In 1955 Lundberg came to New London where he had a 25 year career as the band teacher in the New London School District. At that same time he began playing the Hammond Organ on weekends at the Westwood Inn and Fireside in Willmar. In 1976 he started his own band, Ancient Age, and did weekend gigs. When he first started the band, the members were Lundberg, Doug Kodet, Roger Kodet, Del Schueller and Brad Hanson. Now the band is comprised of Del Schueller, Vern Schueller, Johnie Sturgeon, Merle Caldwell and Lundberg. “Del took over the band as co-leader about ten years ago. I was going to quit but decided to stay and play.” He said they just got together and started playing and that’s all it took to get that band started.        They’ve had different people in the band, Lundberg said, but he’s been the only constant one. They’ve played at the Kandiyohi County Fair, adult day care centers, New London Spicer Senior Prom, in Sauk Centre, the Lakeside Ballroom in Glenwood, places in Olivia, nursing homes, private birthday parties, the Edina Ballroom and numerous other places. But no more working 24/7, he said. “We cut out the traveling, the weather in the wintertime is not the best in the world to go out and fight the elements.” Lundberg also plays at the Elks Club in Willmar and has for the past 55 years. “I was state organist for 30 years, but now I’m going to retire because of my health. Both (my wife) Toots and I want to slow down, and I’m retiring totally pretty soon.” Lundberg’s career at school was important to him and during that time he only played with the band on weekends. “School was an important job. I was very busy at that time. When I first came in 1955 they assigned me the beginners band, junior high band, concert band, pep band, marching band, study hall and history, all the first year.” He also gave music lessons after school. “I had a fulltime job so I looked forward to the weekends when I could go out and do something different, relax and get away from the week’s job.” He taught a lot of kids during those years. “It’s nice to know some of these kids kept going in music and made a name for themselves.” Lundberg is a member of the American Federation of Musicians and in the early 50s, was president of the St. Cloud Musicians Association. Ancient Age was honored as the outstanding band in the category of big band variety by the Minnesota Ballroom Operators Association in 1992. In 1996 Lundberg was inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame. His dance poster collection is on display there as well. Lundberg has collected 100 rare dance posters, and had his garage wall covered with them until he donated them to the Music Hall of Fame in New Ulm. Lundberg is hopeful that the old-time Big Band music will keep going. Dancing to that music is a great form of exercise, he said, plus it keeps you young and your mind sharp. “We believe in giving people the kind of music they like…simply music with a beat. We try to please our audience….the kind of folks who have been our friends and neighbors all of our lives.” Lundberg said he has lots of good memories. “My music makes people happy, and that’s my goal in life, to make people happy and I’ve been doing that since 1935.” He said he always gets good comments from the older people. “They enjoy my music….but the younger people don’t quite understand what I’m doing.”

15 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page