Today’s guest post comes from Renee Boomgaarden, aka Renee in North Dakota.
Sometime in 1925, the residents in and around Ellsworth, MN were abuzz with the news that Okke Boomgaarden had bought a $3000 accordion for his daughter, Amanda.
Okke was my great uncle, the fifth oldest of the sixteen children in my grandfather’s family. Okke was, officially, a farmer, sort of like how Don Corleone was, officially, an olive oil importer. Okke made his money bootlegging, and his barn was used for dances, not livestock. Okke had regular dances in the barn. He provided refreshments, at a cost, and members of the family provided the music.
Family historians talk about my grandfather and many of his siblings having a natural aptitude for music. All were self taught.
- Great Uncle George learned to play the fiddle when he was 16.
- Great Uncle Albert also played the fiddle.
- Great Uncle Herman was a noted left handed banjo player.
- My grandfather played the cello.
- Great Aunt Amelia played the piano.
- Other family members played the accordion.
In the years before the First World War they were know as The Boomgaarden Orchestra and played for dances, weddings, and harvest festivals in northwest Iowa and southwest Minnesota.
After the war, they changed their name to Mandy’s Jazz Kings, and played in Okke’s barn, joined by Okke’s children Georgie on fiddle, Jake on saxophone, and Amanda and Mabel on the accordion.
My father remembers going to some of those dances when he was a little boy, driving to Ellsworth with his parents in their Graham-Paige automobile. I wish I know more about the music the Jazz Kings and the Boomgaarden Orchestra performed.
I wish I knew what happened to my grandfather’s cello. Until I researched for this post, I never even knew he played a string instrument.
Okke died of a heart attack in 1928, and the dances stopped soon afterwards. The older members of the Jazz Kings had their own farms and families to care for and couldn’t play with the band anymore. Okke’s sons Georgie and Jake kept playing, changing the name to The Georgie Boomgaarden Orchestra. Georgie and his band played in the towns around Ellsworth until the 1970’s.
The Depression hit everybody hard. At one point, Jake’s saxophone needed $12.00 worth of repairs, but he didn’t have the money to fix it. The local doctor intervened and paid for the repairs. He had just built a night club in Ellsworth and needed musicians to play for the dances.
My grandfather felt it was important for my dad and his brother to have some kind of music training despite the tight finances. Grandpa drove Dad and Uncle Alvin to Luverne once a week to practice with a drum and bugle corps. This group was comprised of sons of World War I veterans, and you can see them in the photo at the top of this page. Dad played both drum and the bugle – he is the third boy on the right in the back row. He can still play his bugle, and has two of them in his bedroom.
My children and I are the current Boomgaarden music amateurs along with my husband. Husband plays the cello, guitar, harmonica, and piano. He also sings. You can see me playing my bass clarinet in the Concordia College Band in 1978. Daughter plays the violin, French horn, and piano. She sings in college. Son played the trombone and sang in college. He currently sings in the church choir. I drafted husband to join the handbell choir. He drafted me to sometimes play the bass guitar in a very amateur gospel/rock and roll group.
Why do we do these thing? I have no idea. Maybe Okke will explain it to me someday in the Hereafter.
Who has the talent in your family?