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Glen Burklund
Born:  February 20, 1912
Died:  August 4, 1997
KSTP Sunset Valley Barn Dance
WHO Iowa Barn Dance Frolic
KFJB Marshalltown, IA
KSTP St. Paul, MN
WHO Des Moines, IA

About The Artist

Glen Burklund, known by many Midwestern fans as the Minnesota Nightingale was born in rural Kanabec county near the town of Mora, Minnesota, about 70 miles north of the Minneapolis-St.Paul area. Glenn's parents later moved to rural Ogilvie, Minnesota in Mille Lacs county, just a bit west of Mora.

Glenn was second oldest of a family of nine children. Music was no stranger in their household. His father played the violin and some of the siblings played guitar and piano accordion. In those days the neighbors would get together for house dances playing Scandinavian Waltzes, Schottisches and Polkas. While we have read many times of the singers from the south being influenced by the barn dances where one who could play the fiddle led the get together's and dances, we can see that music brought the people together, albeit perhaps a different style.

When Glen was just a small lad, his uncle gave him an eight bass button accordion. His uncle also taught him how to play the instrument. Marguerite remembers that Glen used to tell her he was so small to handle the accordion, he would lie down and use his foot to hold the left hand strap so he could pull back and forth for the air needed to play it.

As the young man grew older, he and the family took to listening to the crystal set to hear western music. Hearing that new music, Glen told his parents his goal was to be a performer on radio. Glen was determined to make it and practiced every chance he could find.

In 1938, he went to Jefferson, Iowa with a friend to try and get a job on a farm. While there, he spotted an advertisement in the local newspaper, promoting an upcoming amateur talent contest in town, sponsored by radio station WHO in Des Moines, Iowa. Glen decided he wanted to enter the contest.

But Glen did not have a car to get him to the contest. He asked the farmer if he could borrow his car to go to the contest. The farmer knew Glen was practicing until the late hours at night and he told Glen, "yes, you can use the car."

The farmer must have been impressed with Glen's diligence, determination and his talents for little did he know that the farmer would himself find a ride to town with his neighbors just so he could watch young Glen take part in the contest.

Glen won first place in that contest in 1938 and was asked to come to Des Moines, Iowa to appear on "The Iowa Barn Dance Frolic". The show then was being held in the Shrine Auditorium which had a seating capacity of over four thousand. For Glen, that was the end of his farming career right quick.

It was Stan Witney, one of the WHO announcers, who gave Glen the name of "The Minnesota Nightingale". Like many of the old Barn Dance shows of that era, perhaps noting the popularity of the WLS National Barn Dance out of Chicago, they would feature different types of music for their audiences. Glen sang in Swedish and also translated some western songs to Swedish, accompanying himself on the accordion.

In 1941 WHO sponsored an amateur Golden Gloves boxing tournament. Glen and fellow Iowa Barn Dance Frolic performer, Shorty Hogan (a harmonica player) decided to try their luck and entered the fly weight division. Perhaps it should be noted that they continued their musical careers after this effort.

During this era, WHO had a young sports caster named Ronald 'Dutch' Reagen who of course would later become a Hollywood movie star, Governor of California and later two-term President of the United States. While at WHO it is said that he would broadcast major league baseball games as if he was there by taking what was fed over the news wires and using it to announce the games to the fans over the radio.

Another young act at WHO that came along while Glen was at the station was a quartet named the Williams Brothers, who also performed on the Iowa Barn Dance Frolic show. The youngest boy in the group was a lad we all came to know as Andy Williams.

May of 1942 saw Glen marry the former Marguerite Reimann.

Their time together was all to short for in August of that year, Uncle Sam sent an 'invitation' to join the U.S. Army as many did during Word War II. He left for his tour of duty in September 1942 and returned home in January of 1945. Glen was in the North African campaign and landed on the Anzio Beachhead in Italy. He was as far north as Florence, Italy and was then sent home. He actually went around the world. His travels took him from Des Moines, IA to such places as San Francisco, CA; Australia; Bombay, India; Cairo, Egypt; and Italy. He returned home by way of Newport News, VA before heading home to Des Moines.

When he returned, WHO welcomed him back to its staff. The barn dance announcer kept the audience in suspense - letting them know they had a surprise guest for the show. Don Hovey's orchestra played with fanfare the song "WHO" as Glen was introduced to the home town crowd again.

He was still playing the same accordion he had taken with him around the world. While he was in the military service, his accordion was always in the officers headquarters. He was awarded three bronze stars. Glen also took part in the USO shows during his tour of duty overseas.

After the war, things began to return to normal and radio stations took the chance to be part of that relief and sponsored a variety of activities during that time. It was 1945, the war was over and WHO sponsored a victory garden contest. Glen and Marguerite entered the contest and won a blue ribbon.

"The Fifth Annual WHO National Plowing Match" was held September 27, 1947 in Hamilton County, Ellsworth, Iowa, where President Harry S. Truman was a speaker. This appears to be similar to the event that Zelda Scott mentions in her career recollections - when Mr. Truman spoke to over 100,000 Iowans. Glen was one of the WHO staff that provided the entertainment that day. Marguerite says she still has the guest ribbon that was needed to gain admission at the gate of the event.

Around this time, Glen added something new to the act - a puppy named "Brownie", whom he trained to be a part of his show. Brownie would walk out on the stage on her hind feet while Glen was being introduced and she would sit down and wait for him to finish his songs. Then he would hold her up on one hand up so the audience could see her and then take a bow. Marguerite made all the frocks, hats and glasses for Brownie. Comedy was also a part of the show that Glen put on, and he had a coon skin cap that had a tail that would flip up while he was playing. We've seen before the efforts entertainers made back then to provide their audiences with something besides just singing their songs. It was a bit of a packaged show with a variety of entertainment revolving around their music. Glen was similar in this approach, even if he was not part of a larger group where the comedy roles were usually the part of the bass player or other band member. They sensed fans wanted to be entertained and it showed in the variety they tried to add to their shows.

In 1945, Marguerite joined Glen's show and with her guitar as accompaniment, would sing the country western songs of the day and was billed as, "The Wild Rose Cowgirl."

Around this time, one of WHO's stars, Jerry Smith, had been to Hollywood and made a movie that was debuting and showing in theaters all around the midwest in WHO's listening area. Glen was the main act that worked with Jerry on personal appearances during this time.

The Burklunds moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1952 as Glen had enrolled at the Mac Phail School of Music. Glen wanted to learn to better play the piano accordion. He attended under the GI Bill of Rights for four years. They kept working gigs and also worked with David Stone at KSTP in St. Paul, on the Sunset Valley Barn Dance.

Marguerite recalls there were many agents in the cities to keep them busy. Many of their engagements were in Winnipeg, Canada. Some of the sponsors for their shows were the International Harvester Company, REA Electric Association and the State of Minnesota.

Glen and Marguerite decided to become our own agents (forming a company called Glenmar Entertainment) and did very well booking engagements until a new technology called television made its debut and soon caught the public's attention for entertainment that they could watch at home.

The opportunity came along to invest in real estate and they decided to build a mobile home court at Isanti, Minnesota, still they still made personal appearances on occasion. The years passed and at one point they thought they were going to retire, but that was not to be. The Burklund's moved to Glen's old home town, Ogilvie, Minnesota, and proceeded to build another mobile home park, the Glen Mar Mobile Court. And all the while, they were still finding the time entertain audiences with their performing, too.

One of the things we've come to know in doing the research for this site is that there is a sense of family for some of the shows and artists. They've kept in touch over the years. On occasion, the radio stations will hold reunions to bring the older staff members back to town to renew the memories of their fans. Radio station WHO is one of those stations. On November 14, 1983 Glen and Marguerite were invited back to Des Moines for the grand opening of the new WHO radio and TV building and perform for the fans again.

On August 27, 1988, WHO held another special reunion - this time occuring during the regular Iowa State Fair held at the fairgrounds. All past barn dance employees were invited to come, and be a part of the stage show. Marguerite said "It was so wonderful to meet so many of our friends for such a very memorable time."

The costume articles shown in the last photo in this group, Glen's coon skin cap and Brownie's wardrobe, were all donated to the State of Iowa Historical Society. Marguerite, in addition to her musical talents, was a good seamstress and made all of their stage wardrobe.

Glen and Marguerite were married fifty-five years. Marguerite now lives in Des Moines.

Unfortunately, Glen never did make any recordings so fans could hear the Swedish versions of the songs he did or his accordion playing. Perhaps its one time fans can let their imagination wonder what that must have been like.

Credits and Sources

  • Hillbilly-Music.com wishes to express its appreciation to Mrs. Marguerite Burklund, Glen's wife, for providing his with Glen's biography, photos and clippings.

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