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A trumpet falls silent

Musical icon Irv Peterson, who played with Wally Warren, Sammy Jensen orchestras, dies at age 91

August 31, 2012
By Karin Elton , Marshall Independent

MARSHALL - He missed a July gig at the Surf Ballroom in Iowa only because he needed to see a doctor, otherwise Irv Peterson of Marshall would have been playing his trumpet front and center with the Sammy Jensen Orchestra.

After eight decades of making music, Peterson died Wednesday at the age of 91.

"He had played the trumpet every day for 80 years," said his widow, Mary Lou Peterson. "Even at Guadalcanal. He started playing the trumpet at age 10."

Article Photos

In 1948, Irv Peterson, front, middle, played in a band featuring a trio of trumpets on Cedric Adams’ WCCO radio show, “Stairway to Stardom.”

For more than 60 summers, he played in the Marshall Municipal Band.

"He was able to do that every year because they played on Wednesdays," Mary Lou Peterson said. "Most of his dates were on weekends."

He was able to play the first two performances in June, said Bob Meffert, the band director and longtime friend of Irv's.

"I knew Irv before I came to Marshall through his music store," Meffert said. "Then when I came to Marshall in '67 he became a colleague. Irv was the living history of the band - he had seen three conductors of the city band."

Meffert said the city band without Irv Peterson in it is "the end of an era. We're going to miss those stand-up solos. The whole season next year will be dedicated to him."

"He was a phenomenal musician," said Lon Wright, Music St. owner and a clarinetist with the city band since the middle 1970s. "He played his instrument which such finesse. It was such a pleasure to hear him play."

Irv Peterson is most known as the bandleader of The Sammy Jensen Orchestra, playing ballroom music since 1981. In addition to performing throughout the Midwest as well as Texas, Arizona and California, the band played on cruise ships traveling to the Bahamas and Europe.

The Sammy Jensen Orchestra received many awards and was selected by the National Ballroom and Entertainment Association as one of two bands to play on its 1989 Big Band Caribbean Cruise featuring Irv and Mary Lou's daughter, Kelly Peterson. In 1998, the orchestra was inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame. Peterson was named "Bandleader of the Year" by the National Ballroom and Entertainment Association in 1999.

Born in Garvin, Peterson graduated from Tracy High School and St. Olaf College. He organized one of the first dance bands at St. Olaf, Mary Lou Peterson said.

"Those Norwegians were so strict," she said. "He started to loosen them up a bit."

After a stint in the U.S. Navy which included being stationed at Guadalcanal for two years, he played trumpet back home with the Wally Warren and Sammy Jensen orchestras for about five years. He then organized his own group, The Ambassadors, which lasted 15 years. He also bought a music store in 1947 and owned and operated Peterson Music until 1974.

After taking over the Sammy Jensen Orchestra, Peterson had a loyal following of fans.

"We have stacks and stacks and stacks of letters from people," Mary Lou Peterson said. The fans wrote of how much they enjoyed his music and often asked if he could play at other ballrooms they frequented.

Mary Lou Peterson said Irv arranged much of his music for the different instruments in the band.

"If he had eight people playing, he would arrange for those instruments," Mary Lou Peterson said. "He did that all of his life."

"He was an icon in his community as an instrumental performer," Meffert said, "and an inspiration to all who played with him."

Funeral arrangements are pending with Rehkamp-Horvath Funeral Directors in Marshall.



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