Neighbors: ND has its own champion of the 'Great American Songbook'

Myron Sommerfeld. Special to The Forum

This column once reminisced about the popular songs from a few decades ago, and asked you readers to send in your thoughts on them.

That brought a note from Myron Sommerfeld, of Valley City, N.D., and, in the winter, of Mesa, Ariz.

“As Tony Bennett stated in his book, ‘The Good Life,’’ Myron writes, “the songs from the Great American Songbook will last the test of time. They have quality that will be played and sung hundreds of years from now. These musical compositions written by the greats are America’s one true gift to the world of music.”

Many of you know Myron. He’s been playing in local groups for years. And he has his own outfit; in 1956, he took over the Red Jackets, the band his father Henry Sommerfeld started in 1929 at Gackle, N.D. Today, it’s called simply Myron Sommerfeld and His Music.

His story was reported a while ago in Dancing USA magazine.

That story says while Myron was growing up on a farm near Gackle, he was more interested in music than farming.

When his father started his band, it consisted entirely of family members, with Myron playing guitar. He switched to drums when he was 14 because another band had canceled out, Henry’s outfit filled in, and Myron was hurriedly drafted to take over the drum chair.

He played for his dad for some time, then in 1956 launched his own rock ’n’ roll band, also made up mostly of family members.

His sister played piano. But when she became ill, a young woman named Jenneice filled in for her. And this probably made love songs very meaningful for Myron, because love blossomed and Jenneice became his wife.

The Sommerfelds had a daughter, Bonnie. Sure enough, the musical genes were passed down, because she had a talent for playing the flute and saxophone.

In 1958, Myron formed the Silver Star Orchestra, which also was known as the Bon-Bon Brass, named after Bonnie. Later, the band’s name was changed to its present title.

Myron has long scored points with professional musicians. A song he and Bonnie wrote, titled “Steppin’ Out to Go Dancin’,” was chosen as the theme song for National Ballroom Dance Week in 1992, and his orchestra once was chosen as the nation’s outstanding band by the National Ballroom and Entertainment Association.

On top of leading his band in hundreds of performances around the Midwest and in resorts around Mesa and Phoenix, playing aboard cruise ships to South America and making several recordings, Myron was music director for first through 12th grades in the Valley City school system for nearly 30 years, although he’s now retired from that position.

When Ed Schafer was governor of North Dakota, he sent a note to Myron after his band had been chosen to play at the National Ballroom and Entertainment Association’s convention, saying, in part, “On behalf of the citizens of the great state of North Dakota, it is my privilege and pleasure to extend congratulations on this recognition for your outstanding achievements and contributions in the music industry.

“For years,” Ed wrote, “your love of music has brought joy and entertainment to thousands of people and helped uphold the traditions and events that are an integral part of our everyday lives and culture of North Dakota. From parties to dances and celebrations, you have been there providing the music and songs that made each event special.

“Myron, please accept my personal congratulations on this achievement and honor. Allow me to quote a great American entertainer, Bob Hope, in saying, ‘Thanks for the memories.’”

Great love songs

Myron isn’t the only one who likes the old songs.

Neighbors also received a note from Howard Langemo, also of Valley City, and who is 92, who says of them, “I tell my kids and grandkids there have not been love songs like ours before or since.

“‘All the Things You Are’ is considered by some to be the greatest ballad of all time. ‘Just the Way You Look Tonight’ is not bad either.”

And Howard has a suggestion with which Myron would no doubt agree. “Try them; you’ll like them.”

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107, fax it to 701-241-5487 or email blind@forumcomm.com.