“Maj Bal” by Thorstein Skarning
Thorstein Skarning was born in 1888 near Drammen, Norway. A virtuoso on chromatic button accordion, he made commercial recordings of such tunes as “Skarning’s Mazurka” and “Vals Brilliante” in Norway before emigrating to the United States prior to World War I. By 1917, and possibly earlier, he began performing around the Upper Midwest, accompanied by his wife Anna, a singer and pianist. Billed respectively as “The World’s Greatest Accordion Virtuoso” and “Norwegian Soprano and Pianist,” the couple offered formal programs ranging from Norwegian folk melodies to the classical compositions of Edvard Grieg. By the 1920s, Skarning & Company sometimes included Otto and Iva Rindlisbacher of Rice Lake, Wisconsin, who contributed tunes from their ancestral Switzerland on twin piano accordions, before joining with the Skarnings to play for dances that followed formal programs. In 1918 Skarning recorded four accordion solos in New York City that were released on the Columbia label (“Vår Kyssen,” “Norsk “Arie,” “Vosserull,” and “Season’s Coming”). And in 1930, as Thorstein Skarning and His Old Time Orchestra, he recorded two sides in Chicago for the Brunswick label. By this time his sons, Thorstein B. and Osmund, had joined the band on drums and accordion. Although continuing to specialize in “Norske” favorites, the group added “modern” and American country sounds to their repertoire to tour throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and North Dakota as Thorstein Skarning and His Norwegian Hill Billies. Skarning died in Fargo, North Dakota, in 1939, but the band carried on until at least 1953 under the leadership of Thorstein B. Skarning. In its latter years, the elder Skarning’s daughters Lou and Irene joined the band. Lou played guitar and sang country duets with her sister, and the pair were also featured on the Sunset Valley Barn Dance over St. Paul’s KSTP radio and television stations in the 1940s and 1950s.