Almost 30 years ago, an unassuming gentleman carrying old tapes in a plastic bag walked into Dave Hanson's Friendship Inc., a newly founded Fargo production company. The man was there to make a pitch to the skeptical Hanson.
He popped in the tapes with his compositions, and out came a Marlboro jingle and a theme for the television program "Wild Kingdom," both iconic melodies.
The man was Paul Severson, the renowned Fargo composer, producer and teacher, who died in his Cedaredge, Colo., home Sunday after a long battle with prostate cancer. Severson, who is survived by his wife, Karen, four children and two grandchildren, was 78.
"He just blew me out of the water," Hanson says about his future mentor and Friendship director for music production, who had just returned to Fargo after a successful career in Chicago. Hanson had discovered just one of Severson's many musical incarnations.
Severson authored some of the most recognizable commercial music of his time - for the Doublemint Twins, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Kellogg's - which scored him 15 Clio Awards, the highest advertising industry honor. He was also an excellent trombonist alongside the likes of Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie, a talented arranger and the first head of the Minnesota State University Moorhead's music industry program in the 1980s and '90s.
He juggled those roles, and more, effortlessly. "Everything he did, he did with the same dignity and esteem," says retired MSUM faculty member Dave Ferreira. "It was always about envisioning you can do it and then making it happen."
Severson, a 1946 graduate of Fargo Central High School, settled in Chicago after obtaining a master's in music from Northwestern University. He performed with the Chicago Symphony and composed for a slew of top advertising agencies.
Back in Fargo, he helped found several local jazz groups, arranged compositions for the Red River Dance and Performing Co. and served as music director for Trollwood Performing Arts School. All along, he mentored, encouraged and enlightened, friends say.
"He was an extremely intelligent man on a multitude of subjects," says longtime friend Bob Anderson, founder of the Jazz Arts Group. "He could talk politics, religion, philosophy, you name it. He was No. 1 for me."
Life celebration services will be at 3 p.m. June 5 at Faith United Church of Christ in International Falls, Minn., and at 3 p.m. June 8 at Fargo's First United Methodist Church, with a coffee reception following.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529