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Marjorie Christiansen
Born:  August 17, 1923
Died:  July 16, 1993
WHO Iowa Barn Dance Frolic
WHO Des Moines, IA
WMT Cedar Rapids, IA

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 primarily phonics.

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 the finals.

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 Province.

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:

  • 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
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, by Coward.

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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