Walter Algot Eriksson was born in Brooklyn, New York on May 30, 1926 to Swede-Finn parents. His mother Anna Sophia Haals (Holmberg) was born in Maxmo, Vasa, Finland (“Österbotten”) and his father Algot Axel Eriksson was born on Daniels Farm, Västanträsk, in Finnström province of the Åland Islands. Algot, who couldn´t read music was an expert on the violin and accordion. His parents recognized his musial abilities early and enrolled him into the High School of Music & Art in New York City. Walter studied under the famous accordionist Eric Olzen. Walter began to play professionally at age 14 and made his first recording the following year. His first record was sponsored by C.A. Hanssen and Bros., and featured the Scandinavian Music Makers: Walter Eriksson-Accordion, Gunnar Lindholm-Guitar, and Karl Lorentzen-Bass.
Walter’s musical career was interrupted by his service in the U.S. Army in World War II, serving from 1943-1945 with the 36th Infantry Division as a Bazooka man. He was assigned to front line action on the Siegfried Line and saw action on the Rhine. He was the member of an American task force, freeing many prisoners of war. While in the Army he obtained an accordion and led with several bands as well as playing the Glockenspiel in the marching band. Towards the end of the war he entertained at various D.P. camps and Officers´ Clubs.
After the war he returned to New York and in 1946, continuing his teaching career. He established the Eriksson Accordion Studio at the Viking Music House on 8th Avenue and 58th treet in Brooklyn. At that time he had over 1,000 students, some of them becoming professional accordionists. Walter and his father Algot entertained together until his father passed in 1950.
For many years Walter played at the Danish Athletic Club, Vasa Temple, Swedish Football Club, Swedish Seamen’s Center, Finn Hall, Imatra Hall, Sons of Norway Hall, and the Norwegian Seamen’s House and others. Throughout the years he played for major Scandinavian – American organizations at dances, social affairs, private parties, cruises, banquets, picnics, weddings, anniversaries and others.
In 1949 he married his sweetheart Emmy Nordin. They met at Vasa Temple in the Bronx at a Swedish dance. They had two children, Jeanne Emmy and Walter Allen. Walter made his own records in his music studio in the basement of his house on 78th Street in Brooklyn and also developed his own film; photography was another passion of Walter´s. He continued teaching in his house studio in the 50s and 60s. He made his first trip to Sweden in 1955, upon meeting Andrew Walter who made a trip to America earlier that same year. Annual trips to Sweden included many compositions and recordings with his colleague Andrew Walter.
In the late 60s Walter moved his family to the corner house on 78th Street and Fort Hamilton Parkway. A great location for music students to travel to by bus or subway and he continued to do that during the day, while busy with music jobs on the weekends and whenever. He continued his annual trips to Sweden, Norway and Åland. He recorded a series of “Sing Along in Swedish” “Sing Along in Norwegian,” Finnish and Danish recordings. He recorded with the popular Broderna Lindquist and Kjell Wigren. During the 70s he paired up with Hasse Tellemar, Sweden´s popular host of “Ring så spelar vi” radio program. Together they appeared on many TV shows in Sweden and toured the USA with visiting groups. Together they recorded 4 albums which included American swing music. Hasse and Walter were very close until the end. Hasse´s wife Anna-Lisa and Walter´s wife Emmy also became best friends.
Walter appeared on various American TV programs: I Remember Mama, the WNBC Home Show, CBS Children’s Show “ Around The Corner “ , and a guest on the Merv Griffen Show, The Arthur Murray Show and Faye Emerson Shows. He made radio commercials for Rheingold and SAS Airlines. Walter also appeared on Swedish television shows: “ Nygamalt”, “Sveriges Magasin”, “ Lorda Me Larsson,“ Musikant Med Bälge” and “Husker Du”. Walter also had his own radio shows, including “ Scandinavian Breakfast Club” and “ Viking Melody Time” and his most recent “ Scandinavian Echoes”.
Scandinavian royalty are amongst the thousands of people who have enjoyed Walter Eriksson’s accordion music, namely: King Olav of Norway, King Carl Gustav of Sweden, Crown Prince Harald & Crown Princess Sonja of Norway, Princess Margareta & Christina of Sweden, President Urho of Finland. He has also entertained celebrities Liv Ullman, Ann-Margret and Victor Borge and accompanied opera singer, Lauritz Melchair.
Walter was honored with prestigious awards and honors such as: Knights Cross First Class of the Order of Vasa from the Swedish government, the St. Olav’s medal from the King of Norway and the Finnish Cultural Medal and various honors in the U.S.A. He treasured the “Publiks Favorit” award given in 1992 to him at the largest accordion festival in the world, “Bälgsel vid landvägskanten” in Värmland, Sweden. He travelled there with his beloved Scandinavian Accordion Club of New York (est. 1987).
Walter was an active member of the Vasa Order of America, Sons of Norway, Balder Lodge of the Masonic Order, The Scandinavian-American Business Assosiation, ASCAP, Swedish Society of New York, The American Accordion Association, The Swedish Association and the Norwegian Accordion Association. He wrote a monthly column for the Swedish accordion magazine “Dragspelsnytt.”
A man of various hobbies, the original hobby becoming his job and vice versa, His other hobbies included photography, Painting, designing jackets for LP records and was a short wave radio fanatic. He also loved to play other instruments such as the Hammond Organ, Piano, Clarinet and Bass. He was also a lover of cats and had many of them over the years, giving some of his pupils newborn kittens.
In 1983 Walter travelled to Sweden and Åland with the Vasa Folkdancers of New York on their successful folkdance tour. In 1986 he accompanied the VFNY on their singing album “A Swedish Christmas,” working together with Richard Feingold´s arrangements. 24 voices in 4-part harmony – Luciasånger and Julsånger. Walter celebrated his 60th birthday in the auditorium of Salem Lutheran Church of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Many performing artists paid tribute to him in a 3-hour concert with birthday cake too. In 1987 the Scandinavian Accordion Club was formed together with his daughter Jeanne Widman. Walter arranged over 60 songs into 4-parts for almost 20 accordions. The SAC recorded two albums with Walter as their Band Leader. In 1992 the SAC travelled to Massachusetts for a weekend of concerts and celebrated his 65th birthday, an event sponsored by accordionist Nils Lundin; and in 1992 the SAC made their successful tour to Sweden and Åland, with the highlight being “Bälgspel vid landvägskanten.” This largest accordion festival in the world takes place in Ransäter, Sweden, and it was here that Walter received the prestigious Publik Favorit´s award.
In 1993 Walter was invited back to Bälgspel but took ill upon landing at Arlanda Airport that July, he was subsequently rushed to the hospital in Södertälje while staying with the Tellemars. Upon arriving back early August to Brooklyn, New York, he was taken to Lutheran Medical Center. Walter Algot Eriksson succumbed to liver cancer on September 20, 1993. He was 67 years old. Colleagues from Sweden and Norway flew to America for the funeral, namely Hasse Tellemar, Walle Söderlund & Odd-Tom Risdal. Several hundred people attended the 2-day wake and church service at Salem Church. 4 ministers presided, singers paid tribute, and Hasse Tellemar played “Brooklyn Memories” from the back of the church. At the time he was survived by his wife Emmy of 44 years, 2 children (Jeanne & Wally and their spouses), and 4 grandchildren – Chad, Nicole, Britt and William. Anna-Lisa was born one month after Walter passed.
Since 1947, Walter Eriksson recorded over 2,000 selections for various labels in 20 languages. He has used other professional names on these recordings such as : Walter Nordini, Nordini's Musette Orchestra, Valtaro Ventura, San Diego Tango Orchestra, Scandinavian Boys and Egon Walter and among others. Walter has composed more than 300 songs which were recorded by himself and other artists.
To honor her father, Jeanne started the Walter Eriksson Musikfest, a musical weekend at Vasa Park, Budd Lake, New Jersey, which ran for 14 years. It eventually changed its name to “SkandJam.” Many musicians and Years of musical tributes poured in and some of these moments can be viewed on the websites www.skandjam.com
. and www.waltereriksson.com
. It is with great hope that after a sabbatical, this event will return soon.
In 2002 Jeanne helped “tie the ribbon” at the accordion museum in Ransäters Hembygsgården where the annual “Bälgpel” accordion festival is held every July in Ransäter, Sweden. At the dragspelsexpo museum, one can visit the Walter Eriksson room where there is an exhibit dedicated to him and his music. Visit the museums website www.Dragspelsexpo.com
. for other information regarding accordion music and news happening in sweden.
Walter´s grandson, Chad Widman, has a great interest in Walter's music and its history. He has taken great privilege to help in contribuiting and preserving the legacy of his grandfather. He has created a website with photos, videos, radio and TV programs featuring Walter Eriksson and others. Visit the virtual Walter Eriksson museum at www.WalterEriksson.com
. With the popularity of the social networks, now there is a Walter Eriksson Fan Page on Facebook. www.facebook.com/WalterAlgotEriksson
From short wave radio, 78 rpm records, to 45s, 33 LPs, from 8-tracks to tapes and then CDs, Walter would have loved to have seen himself on YouTube and Facebook.
It is with great hope that his musical contributions during his lifetime will never be forgotten.
JEWA/CW - 2011