Remembering LeRoy Larson

January 11, 2021

We were saddened to learn recently that LeRoy Larson–musician, composer, musicologist/ethnomusicologist, folklorist, educator, and record producer–passed away in Minnesota on December 25, 2020 at the age of 81. Ballard-Sunder Funeral and Cremation has his obituary online, which includes details about a Celebration of Life service being held on Wednesday, January 13, 2021 at 11 a.m. CST via Zoom. The photo above is of Larson, holding a banjo and standing beside the 1947 Ford Coupe he restored, from the cover of his 1973 LP Banjo Ragtime & Other Classics on his label Banjar Records, and is credited to Kallman Studio.

We were thrilled when he chose to donate his trove of Scandinavian folk music and related materials–including photographs, interviews, field recordings, and hundreds of 78 rpm records–to us in establishing the LeRoy Larson Collection. This collection is now part of Local Centers/Global Sounds: Historic Recordings and Midwestern Musical Vernaculars, a project undertaken by Mills Music Library and the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures, along with many other partners at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to present a growing collection of unique, historic, regional, and endangered sound recordings with related documentation.

From the description: The LeRoy Larson Collection documents the traditional dance music of Scandinavians, chiefly Norwegians, in Minnesota with some overlap into western Wisconsin and northern Iowa. LeRoy Wilbur Larson (1939- ) is a musician, composer, musicologist/ethnomusicologist, folklorist, and record producer. Born in Clearwater County, Minnesota, he grew up playing old-time Scandinavian music. In the late 1960s, Larson began making field recordings of Norwegian fiddlers and accordion players, leading to his PhD dissertation, Scandinavian-American Folk Dance Music of the Norwegians in Minnesota (University of Minnesota, 1975). Larson founded the Banjar Records label in 1973, and the Minnesota Scandinavian Ensemble in 1974.

The collection includes his field recordings he made to support his dissertation, along with accompanying documentation; several folios of fiddle tunes composed or transcribed by Otto Rindlisbacher; as well as private recordings of musicians including Leonard Finseth.

LeRoy Larson's handwritten notes on 3x5 index card documenting song listings for field recording titled Leonard Finseth House Party Fiddle

We were glad Larson was able to visit Mills Music Library when he came to campus in April 2018 to participate in that year’s World Records Symposium, an event that had been been organized by the Mayrent Institute for Yiddish Culture annually since 2013 but was run by the Sustaining Scandinavian Folk Music in the Upper Midwest project–which has since been renamed Sustaining Scandinavian Folk Arts in in the Upper Midwest–in 2018. We enjoyed getting to show him the work we’d done with his materials, which he appreciated. We received the news of his passing from Professor Emeritus Jim Leary, who wrote: “I know he was very glad to have good relations with all of us at UW, and he was very pleased that the LeRoy Larson Collection was valued, conserved, and shared.”

We encourage you to read this profile of Larson written by Jared Schmidt shortly after the 2018 World Records Symposium and posted on the Sustaining Scandinavian Folk Arts in the Upper Midwest site: LeRoy Larson: Preserving Scandinavian Folk Music in the Upper Midwest.