Marjorie Christiansen was not the typical hillbilly or country music singer you
see on this site. But in another sense, she is typical of the performer that the
audiences were exposed to at attended the old barn dance or jamboree type radio shows that were
that were common in those earlier days. Marjorie found her audience over WHO and the Iowa
Barn Dance Frolic. We had the pleasure of hearing from her son who was gracious enough
to provide us with her biographical information.
Marjorie Christiansen was born in August of 1923 in Denmark Township at the rural
Iowa town of Ringsted. She was the third child of Nels and Thora Christiansen.
Her older siblings were Pearl and Merrill. Pearl was nine years older and
Merrill was seven years older.
Marjorie's father played clarinet and fiddle while her sister Pearl played the
piano. The evenings at the Christiansen household were spent listening to the radio
and making music.
Marjorie began her singing career in church. Pearl taught her songs and when
she was older she sang at church on Christmas, Easter and Children's Day.
In the fall of 1928 she began the first grade in the little country school house
about three fourths of a mile south of her farm home. The Christiansen farm was
located two miles east and one mile north of Ringsted. There were eight grades
in the one room school. Her brother, Merrill, was in the eighth grade and she
in first. They walked together to school or her father took them. Her first
teacher was her Aunt Edna's sister, Carol. She remembered first grade being
As one might expect in those smaller country schools, her teacher taught all the grades, cleaned the school, and took
care of the furnace and extracurricular activities. She had three more teachers
after the first grade.
One of the teachers was Elfredo Peterson. Miss Peterson was an artist. One year
Marjorie came back to school after Thanksgiving and found the chalkboards covered
with the Christmas story. The manger scene, three wise men, and camels were
all rendered in colored chalk. It was beautiful and impressive and was a favorite
memory of Marjorie's.
Most of the country school teachers received the magazines, The Normal Instructor
and Grade Teacher. Each issue had a reproduction of a famous painting
and information about the painter. The students would write about the picture
or make up a story for the painting. This was Marjorie's introduction to fine art.
The year she was in sixth grade the County Superintendent decided the country
schools should have a music and declamatory competition. Marjorie sang a solo,
a duet with her friend, and also entered the dramatic division. She competed in
her own school with her classmates. The winners went on to compete in
districts and then to finals in Estherville, Iowa. Marjorie won in the finals
in her solo, duet and dramatic presentation. The next year she did it
all again. In the eighth grade they eliminated the dramatic section so she
did a humorous reading. She won the humorous reading, the duet with the sister
of her sixth grade friend and the solo contest. The final elimination was
at Estherville in the afternoon and a final performance at night for
the public. By eighth grade people knew her name and some were glad to see
her graduate (perhaps her fellow competitors?).
Eighth grade students from Emmet County had their graduation exercises
at Estherville where they received awards and diplomas. Marjorie received awards
in music, drama and scholarship.
Marjorie's love of performing continued into high school. She sang in choir,
girls trio, as well as a sextet. She had the lead in both the junior and senior
class plays. She received a first division rating at nationals in voice her
senior year. Her brother, Merrill, drove her to Minneapolis, Minnesota for
During high school her father decided she should have voice lessons.
A lady he knew in Estherville had played violin professionally on the
lyceum circuit. Emmaline Marie Gaarde, Marjorie's teacher, was a perfectionist
and Marjorie respected her. Emma opened the world of music to Marjorie and
prepared her well for her theory classes at Drake University. Marjorie won a
music scholarship at Drake in voice. Marjorie was always grateful to her
sister, Pearl, for the songs she taught her and to Emma for the formal teaching
that continued in high school.
Marjorie continued her education at Drake University in the Spring of 1940.
Her voice teacher was Genevieve Wheat Baal. The choral director at Drake University
and University Christian Church was Stanford Hulshizer. Marjorie became soprano
soloist at University Christian. She also performed The Messiah at Drake and at
Des Moines area churches. The Drake Men's Quartet often featured her. She also
sang in the Drake Women's Trio.
Marjorie was a member of Mu Phi Epsilon honorary music sorority, Phi Mu Gamma,
and the Margaret Fuller club. She was elected to Who's Who in American
Universities and Colleges for 1943-44.
Marjorie was a studio musician and soloist at WHO radio in Des Moines, Iowa
during her years at Drake and later. She sang solos and with the Songfellows
men's quartet. The Songfellows were Stewart Steelman, Harris White, Keith Booth
and Ken Black. Bill Austin was the arranger and accompanist. The group sang daily
on WHO and with live performances at the Iowa Barn Dance Frolic
on Saturday nights.
Marjorie and several women performed with The Songfellows to form a chorus.
They were Juanita Dochem, Harriet Moore and Ruth Howe. Together, they were known
to the listening audience as the Chevrolet Chorus.
In 1944 Marjorie won the Phil Spitalny contest locally and traveled to New York
City for the finals. She was accompanied to New York by her teacher, Genevieve
Wheat Baal. Marjorie was one of twelve finalists that performed on a nation
wide radio broadcast. Her music for the "Hour of Charm" was "Shadow Dance"
from "Dinorah" by Meyerbeer. The live recording is track two on the first disc.
Marjorie and her husband, William King, eventually moved to
Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Marjorie performed live music for WMT radio in Cedar Rapids.
The 1950's began the end for live studio broadcasts. The recording industry
had taken hold with vinyl records lasting much longer than acetate. Stereo was
only a few years away.
Marjorie continued in music in Cedar Rapids with the Cantata Singers,
Bach Singers, Beethoven Music Club, Mu Phi Alumni Group, and private teaching.
She also taught vocal music at Springville Elementary School in Springville, Iowa.
She was choir director at First Presbyterian Church in Marion, Iowa. As a member
of Mu Phi Epsilon Alumni she served as the District Director of the North Central
Emmaline (Emma) Marie Gaarde
Emmaline Marie Gaarde attended school in Armstrong, Iowa. She continued
her studies at St. Clara Academy in Sinsinawa, Wisconsin. She later studied
with Ludwig Becker of the Chicago Symphony. Emma toured the United States
and Canada as a violin soloist with the Lyceum Chautauqua and Redpath Chautauqua.
Emma studied and taught at the Minneapolis College of Music. She earned a degree
in Public School Music. She was a member of Mu Phi Epsilon professional
music sorority. The History of Emmet Co., Iowa.
Pearl Christiansen Glasnapp
Pearl was nine years older than Marjorie. Pearl had taken piano lessons for
several years and was well prepared to assist in Marjorie's vocal lessons.
Pearl was a full time piano accompanist during Marjorie's upbringing and until
she went to Drake University. Pearl provided vocal coaching and a critical ear
for Marjorie's daily practice.
Other Notes of Interest from her Career
Mr. James H. King was kind enough to provide some copies of old articles that
appeared in various publications of an earlier era. From these we get a glimpse
of the type of music Marjorie entertained her audiences with.
In 1942, Marjorie Christiansen, F2 Ringsted, soprano, won the Fiske Award
from the Phi Mu Gamma sorority for music, art and drama. The award was given out
by Mrs. Minnie Maddern Fiske, an honorary member of the sorority, to "...help outstanding
students of the sorority." As a result of her award, Marjorie also became an honorary
member of Phi Mu Gamma. Even at this time, she was quite active with her musical activities,
performing as a soloist with the male quartet, a member of the acapella choir and had
sung in Handels "Messiah".
Over time, doing research for this web site, we have found on occasion that different
artists had the same name, and sometimes during the same time period. In 1944,
Marjorie found herself in a similar situation. It seems that there were two people
with the same name, though spelled slightly different and both were attending
Drake University. One was Marjorie Christiansen, F4 Ringsted and the other was
Margery Christensen, F2 Des Moines.
The similarity didn't stop with their names. Both were in the college of fine arts.
Both were singers - Miss Christiansen was a soprano; Miss Christensen was a contralto.
The article mentions that their goal was to someday do a duet together "...just so nobody
can make a mistake about which of us is singing."
The May 16, 1946 Drake Times-Delphic (the student newspaper of Drake University)
notes that Marjorie King and Dick Keen would be singing in a special program.
The article mentions that she would do:
The article goes on to mention Mr. Keen's program. At the end of the show, they
were to do a duet number, I'll See You Again from the musical comedy, Bitter Sweet,
- Alleluia, by Mozart
- Du Bist Wie Eine Blume, by Schubert
- The Nightinggale and the Rose, by Saint Saens
- Je Suis Titania, an aria from the opera, Mignon by Thomas
- The Swing, by Lehmann
- The LIttle Shepherd's Song, by Watts
- The Pasture, by Naginski
- Summer, by Chaminade
Marjorie E. Christiansen King died in July of 1993. She was survived by her
husband, three children and two grandchildren.
(Her husband, William H. King, died July 2003)
Credits & Sources
- Hillbilly-Music.com wishes to thank James H. King, the
son of Marjorie Christiansen King for providing us with the biographical material
for his mother's career as well as articles and notes about the Songfellows.
- Drake Times-Delphic; May 22, 1942; "Miss Christiansen
Is Chosen For Outstanding Scholar Award"; copy courtesy of James H. King
- Drake Times-Delphic; January 13, 1944; "Duo Names, Duo Trouble,
Duo Warble"; page 1; copy courtesy of James H. King
- Drake Times-Delphic; May 16, 1946; "Marjorie King, Dick Keen
Sing Special Program"; page 3; copy courtesy of James H. King
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