There’s a 1939 film clip that shows Lois Best Herman singing and smiling next to a very young Lawrence Welk as his orchestra plays on.
“You see her natural personality on the video. That was my mom,” said her daughter, Bonnie Herman, of Chicago. “She wasn’t putting on any airs, she was charming, quietly confident within herself.
“They always said, ‘Oh, Lois, what a sweet lady.’ They all said that about her.”
Lois Herman, of Mendota Heights, Welk’s “Original Champagne Lady” and later the featured singer in a 35-year run at the Prom Ballroom in St. Paul, died Oct. 28 of heart failure. She was 98.
Her cheery voice and engaging stage presence turned heads and launched a 60-year musical career that included once playing the organ for President Ronald Reagan. She was inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, as was her late husband, Jules, whom she met when he played trumpet in Welk’s band.
Jules Herman died in 2005. Now they share a gravestone that says, “Music was our life.”
They met when the Welk orchestra was performing in Pittsburgh. Welk asked Jules to go with him to listen to an 18-year-old singer and piano player, “and they were both very impressed. Lawrence hired her right on the spot,” Bonnie Herman said.
The singer was Lois Best, a Pennsylvania native who had been performing on radio station KDKA. Within a year of joining the Welk show in the late 1930s, she married Jules, the chaperone Welk had assigned to her. A contest to decide the name of Welk’s new theme song, “Bubbles in the Wine,” led to her winning the title of “Champagne Lady” and made her a star.
“She was so proud of it, especially as she got older,” said Bonnie Herman, a singer herself who has recorded with the Singers Unlimited.
Lois Herman sang with Welk’s orchestra until the entourage moved to California in 1940. The Hermans decided to stay behind and forge their own musical identities. Lois retired from music for most of the 1940s, raising four children, before joining her husband’s band.
They moved to Mendota Heights in the early 1950s after Jules was hired to lead the house band at the Prom Ballroom on University Avenue. Over the next 35 years, Lois Herman played the organ and sang with the 11-piece orchestra, which drew 800 dancers on Sunday nights.
The orchestra played with recording stars appearing in town, including Pat Boone, Connie Francis and Bobby Darin. The Hermans also provided dinner music when 3M brought the Lawrence Welk Show to the Twin Cities.
Reagan, when preparing to speak in the Twin Cities in the 1980s, took note of the Original Champagne Lady.
“He just stopped and smiled and said hello to her when he was going to speak, and she never forgot it,” Bonnie Herman said.
Lois Herman stayed in touch over the years with Welk, a North Dakota native who became a musical star.
“I remember looking at him and thinking, ‘He is something. He is going to make it big.’ He had this star quality, this presence,” she told the Star Tribune. “Lawrence was a good promoter and he played the accordion well, although he wasn’t a terrific musician. But he really cared about people and they knew it.”
Bonnie Herman said her parents made a great team, with her mother content to let her father handle the business of running a band.
“She just wanted to sing and play and wear her beautiful gowns and entertain,” Bonnie Herman said. “She told me so many times and told me again in her last days that she was so glad she had the gift of music because she made people happy.”
In addition to her husband, Lois Herman was preceded in death by their son Joel and a grandchild. Besides Bonnie Herman, survivors include daughters Gloria Aberman, of Las Vegas, and Debra Herman, of South St. Paul, and four grandchildren. Services were held Monday.
The 1939 clip of Lois Herman performing with Lawrence Welk is at tinyurl.com/lois-herman.