April 18, 2023 at 2:46 p.m.
LaVerne and the Starlites featured band at April 23 Holdingford Heartland event
LaVerne Bzdok started performing when she was 14 with the Jolly Fisherman. Four years later she started her own band, The Starlites Orchestra, later changing the name to LaVerne and the Starlites, and they performed at ballrooms around the upper Midwest.
“It was wonderful back then and talk about experiences, glory and fame, it was all happening,” Bzdok said March 16, during a phone interview.
LaVerne and the Starlites is the featured band from 1-5 p.m., Sunday, April 23, during the Music of Our Heartland Old Time Celebration at the Holdingford American Legion, 560 Main St., in Holdingford. Fellow musicians are encouraged to bring their polka instruments for a jam session at 3 p.m.
The polka party, with city of Holdingford assistance, is funded by a grant from the Central Minnesota Arts Board, thanks to legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.
This Music of Our Heartland program focuses on preserving and sharing the ethnic music of rural Stearns County. LaVerne and the Starlites was chosen this year because of the band members’ rich music heritage.
Bzdok said she grew up in a “house booming with music” in a fun loving family, who had the opportunity to share music with the public.
“My mom played accordion and harmonica, and my dad played guitar and piano accordion,” she said.
Bzdok is a self-taught musician, who plays by ear but can read notes.
“I play by ear because it’s more important to wave to the people than it is to play a number perfect,” she said. “They will remember LaVerne waving to them, but they may not remember a song that was played perfect.”
After performing with the Jolly Fishermen for four years, Bzdok met concertina player Alan Quade from Foley and formed her first band, The Starlites Orchestra, in 1962.
“We were playing ballrooms that I dreamed about, like the Bel Rae, Medina, Turf Ballroom and the Corn Palace and various other ballrooms in Minnesota, South Dakota and Nebraska,” she said.
Bzdok, at age 22, changed the band name to LaVerne and the Starlites when Quade left the band to pursue his professional working career.
Being a female band leader in those days was unusual Bzdok said, “not only to the ballroom owners but the dancers.”
By the early 1980s the band developed a following.
“I was approached by a large travel company out of Chicago, and they said, ‘How would you like to take your band to a polka festival in Europe, and all I had to do was sell it to 50 people, and it worked, and I was on my way to doing many cruises,” she said.
It was thanks to her music that LaVerne’s Travel started. Followers of the band suggested she arrange a bus trip to her performance in Florida for a polka festival. After that, LaVerne and husband George started arranging trips together.
She said she has been blessed with many talented musicians who performed in her band or who she met along her musical journey, including Kenny Jensen, who played drums in Nashville for Tammy Wynette; Scott Nason, an excellent trumpet player, who now has a recording studio in Nashville; and Jay O’Donnell, who performs with the Fabulous Armadillos.
She talks about hiring the Dirkes’ brothers, Dean and Daryl, of Albany. At the time, Dean was 11 and Daryl 10.
“They played with me in my band through high school and college and then got jobs and married and came back about 20 years ago, and they’re still with me,” Bzdok said.
LaVerne and the Starlites has entertained music lovers around Minnesota, the United States, Europe and on cruises. The band has produced six albums, including one with the catchy title, “Swing and Sway the Starlite Way” and “Walk With Me” featuring spiritual songs.
Bzdok has written many songs, including the music for country-polka Masses the band performs for.
“We’ve done Masses everywhere from St. Francis, to St. Stephen, to St. Rosa, to Sacred Heart in Freeport, Lastrup, Kimball and my home parish of Our Lady of Lourdes,” she said.
This month jam sessions started again at the Holdingford American Legion from 1-4 p.m. the second Thursday of the month, with anywhere from six to 13 musicians.
“Working with other musicians is wonderful,” Bzdok said.
With hundreds of songs in her band’s repertoire, the tunes are endless. She admits to having a few favorites – “Let’s Have a Polka Party” and “One Day at a Time.”
Chances are those songs, and plenty more, will be on the list April 23.
With a “music makes you happy” attitude, she is eager to pass on her passion.
“I’m a very spiritual person. I told the Lord, ‘This is what I want,’” Bzdok said. “The Lord has blessed me so many times.”