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Publication Date

November 2009


On the first page of the diary, [John Rosendahl] called himself the "Fritz of the Banjo," though he was also "a red hot violinist... and famous comedian." He must have had extensive training and experience in music, since there are many short music manuscripts written out in pen and he mentions writing musical arrangements. For four weeks, he accompanied the Finnish-American performer Wäinö Ollila on the Vaudeville circuit. He met and teamed up with an accordionist named Mikkilä to play dozens of engagements in the summer of 1926. Several newspaper ads pasted into the diary read, "Mikkilä and Rosendahl ... Program of Finnish, Russian and American numbers." The engagements were generally "Iltama ja tanssi" or "Konserttija tanssi ilta" - in other words a formal concert program, followed by a dance. The concert programs contained an interesting mixture of classical, popular and folk music. Rosendahl had the ability to play violin pieces by Fritz Kreisler and Jules Massenet, often performed on the same program with Finnish-American favorites and popular music of the time. This was always followed by a dance, meaning he had a mastery of dance music repertory as well.A diary entry of August 17, [1926] says, "We left Duluth for a four weeks trip to Michigan." The entry of Aug. 26, [1926] says, "Met new playing pal, [Viola Turpeinen] 50-50 bases." This is apparently the date when John and Viola first met. He was 35 and she still just 16 years old. For the remainder of that year John and Viola played together more than five nights a week in various Finn Halls all over the Upper Peninsula and Northern Minnesota. Viola became a sensation, with her youthful beauty and virtuosic accordion technique. They made good money for the time, playing numerous engagements for ever-larger audiences.Soon another young Finnish-American accordionist joined the "Turpeinen Orchestra." Like Viola, Sylvia Polso was born in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan - in 1911 to an iron mining family. She was a great technical player who had also toured the Finn Hall circuit of the Upper Midwest. In New York, she was another protégé of Retro Deiro. The "Viola, Sylvia and John" trio, also billed as "Viola Turpeinen & Co." toured as before and continued making recordings.

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