Known as the Queen of Jazz in the Brainerd area, Diane Saumer Guidi began her singing career at the age of 3. Sixty-three years later, she still stands in the spotlight sharing her talents with fans. Health issues don’t slow her down. Her love of music and strong faith keeps her singing. Diane was raised by a family of musicians. Her grandmother, Agnes Ostenson, began singing with a band at the age of 16. Diane’s father, Warner Ostenson, had his own band, and it wasn’t uncommon for him to lift his young daughter up onto the bar in a night club, and Diane would sing as her father accompanied her on the accordion. “That would probably be frowned upon today,” Diane said, “but that’s how my dad made a living. Music was his life!” And it’s been a huge part of Diane’s life, and she has no plans to retire the voice. Born and raised in Montevideo, Diane began singing as a young child by performing solos at weddings and entered various talent shows. By the age of 9, she began singing with her family’s band, the Three Aces Featuring Miss Diane, which included her father, an aunt and anuncle. Her grandmother sewed all the dresses that Diane wore on stage. Her mother traveled with the family but did not perform. While in school, Diane would go home for lunch, but her father turned that time into rehearsal time and her lunch was usually eaten as she walked back to school. “By the time I was 12, I knew over 2,000 songs,” she said, recalling some of the early songs she sang were April Showers, Thumbelina, Ballin’ the Jack, Let Me Go Lover, The Wheel of Fortune, gospel, old- time and many others. Diane and her three siblings also had their own calypso band, the Ostenson Family Troupe. The group won several talent contests. In high school, she was in many musicals and still remembers one of the songs she sang, I Didn’t Know the Gun was Loaded, a song released by the Andrew Sisters in 1949. But she still sang with her father’s band to help support the family. She graduated from Montevideo High School in 1963, and when her father retired, she continued performing on stage. She married Ken Saumer, who was a dispatcher for the Minnesota State Patrol, and also sang in the Twin Cities, where they made their home. They raised four children – Michele, Patrick (Rick), Megan and Andrew, and they, too, inherited the generations of musical talent. “My most joyful memories are when we would sing as a quintet,” Diane remembered. Even after Diane and Ken divorced, the family has still sung together. Currently, son Rick Saumer sings with the Twin Cities 130-member chorus, Vocalessence, and is also a pianist. Once married, the name of her band was changed to The Diane Saumer Combo. They were honored to sing for the grand opening of the O’Shaughnessy Auditorium in St. Paul and also had a guest performance with the Jules Herman Orchestra. Never having any formal vocal training, Diane also sang with church choirs, which she also directed, and the Skyway Singers in Minneapolis. In 1987, the Saumer family moved to Brainerd as Ken’s position was transferred. “I did not want to move to Brain-dead (aka Brainerd),” Diane giggled. “I wanted to stay in the Cities and continue singing there.” She recalls that yogurt shops were very popular in the Twin Cities, so she made plans to start a shop in Brainerd. But her friend, Hugh Phillips, who was a radio announcer with WJJY in Brainerd, told Diane, “You’ll have to pour gravy on it if you want anyone to eat it here.” Since yogurt was not that popular in northern Minnesota at that time, Diane decided against the venture and continued on with her singing by forming a new band in 1990, Diane Saumer and Friends. “We played at various resorts and other places, and we had a good following and still do today,” Diane said. “And now I love the Brainerd area. I don’t care how nasty the weather is. It’s like you’re always on vacation living here,” she admitted. “I do miss the music scene in the cities, but I’ve become very involved with music here, too. The people here are so friendly!” Her rich, strong, clear alto voice is also heard on CDs and DVDs that she and her Friends have recorded. She has also been honored by performing as a soloist in the Heartland Symphony Orchestra’s presentation of The Messiah, plus appearances on TV and radio. Through her many years of singing, Diane likes jazz best, followed by “swing and everything.” Her favorite singers include Aretha Franklin, Patsy Cline and Michael Buble. She believes that Buble has made jazz more popular today. While performing on stage at Central Lakes College in Brainerd in the early 1990s, Diane met Bob Guidi, a talented musician who plays several instruments, including the tenor sax, and he also worked in ad sales for newspapers and radio stations. Diane said that Bob’s dad bought him his first set of drums, and he practiced night and day until he left Mishawaka, Ind., where he was raised, and traveled to Hollywood, where he performed. “His family has many talented and famous musicians,” Diane shared. “Remo Belli, Bob’s first cousin was a drummer and originated the plastic head and fasteners to drums, replacing the calfskin which kept breaking. His name was recently put into the Smithsonian (Museum) for his contribution to the beginning of rock and roll.” Diane added Remo Belli supplies 55 percent of the world’s drum equipment. Bob’s third cousins were Pete and Conte Condoli, famous jazz trumpeters with Woody Herman and the Tonight Show Band. Although not related, Bob was able to play with Al Hirt in 1991 at the Quarterdeck Lounge near Brainerd that Diane said was a “chance encounter.” In 1997, Diane began a nonmusical “day gig” by working as the permitting supervisor in the Planning & Zoning office for Crow Wing County and retired in 2008. She and Bob were married in 1994, and every year since then Diane Saumer & Friends have traveled to Mishawaka to play with the Notre Dame (University) Jazz Trio. In June 2011, while performing there before an audience of 700 people, Diane had a heart attack. “It was while I was singing the fourth song, Walking After Midnight, as part of a Patsy Cline tribute, that I couldn’t get my breath,” Diane remembered. “It also felt like something was pressing on my chest, but not real hard. I walked down the steps from the stage, and sat on a chair. But then I realized I had to lie down, so I walked past the audience and laid down on the floor.” Diane spent the next week in the hospital where the doctors diagnosed that she had suffered a stress heart attack. Fortunately, she did not have any surgery, and there was no damage to her heart. She has been on medication since that time and goes for frequent checkups. But the scare did not stop her from her love for singing. She and Bob have been married for 18 years, and he plays the tenor sax in their band. However, in early December 2012, Diane sang without Bob for the first time in 22 years as he is battling prostate cancer that was discovered in 2003 and has now metastasized. He began receiving strong doses of chemo in October and, at the time of this writing, was hospitalized and has developed congestive heart failure. “I’ve told Bob that God has a plan for him, and right now I plan to enjoy every day with him and my family,” she said soulfully. “I’ve learned to not waste time on the small things.” In addition to Bob, other members of the five-piece band who alternate their performance schedule include guitarists, Jim Olsen and Dick Wilt, a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; Lyle Kline, drummer; Dawn Hill, Dennis Couryelle and Al Olson, pianists; and Pat Scrimshaw on jazz harmonica.
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