Sunday, 19 July 2015

Sarah Bardahl (1876-1956) (52 Ancestors Week 29) Theme: "Musical"

This week I'm going out on a limb on my family tree. With "Musical" as this week's theme, the obvious choice is the musical branch of the family found among the descendants of my grand-aunt Sarah Bardahl and her husband Olof Larson. Sarah was the sister of my grandfather John Bardahl and the daughter of my great grandparents Hans Bardahl and Anna Elton.

Sarah Bardahl Larson seated far left in Bardahl family grouping with her parents and siblings
(my grandfather John standing back row right)
Photo  c 1897-1900

Sarah was born 10 November 1876 in Rennville, Minnesota. She moved with her parents to Lien Township and was confirmed by Rev. G. Erdahl in the Lien church. Three days after her 20th birthday she married Olof Larson who was employed by the International Harvester Company for much of his life. Sarah and Olof were active in the Olivet Lutheran Church where he was president of the board of trustees, superintendent of the Sunday school, a member of the choir and instructor of the Bible class. (After his death, his contributions to the church were recognized by dedication of a beautiful memorial window in his name.) In addition to singing in the church choir, Olof also led the Barrett Silver Cornet Band in which he played 1st Bb Solo Cornet. The band met twice a week on Tuesday and Saturday evenings and the local paper "The Breeze" described them as "proficient musicians, pleasant and jolly". It isn't known if Sarah had any particular musical ability or interests, but her obituary said that "the Larson home radiated happiness". Both Olof and Sarah are buried in the Immanuel Lutheran Cemetery at Barrett, Grant County, Minnesota.

Children of Sarah and Olof

Sarah and Olof had three children: two daughters, Hilma b. 1897 and Florence b. 1902 and one son Einar Willard b. 1914.

1. Hilma played piano. She moved with her family to Valley City ND when she was 12. She worked at a bank in Valley City, graduated from high school there and then graduated from the music department of the state normal school. She married William Jennings Bryan Clark 13 July 1919 and moved with her husband to Grand Forks ND in 1924. They had 4 daughters (more about them later).

2. Florence, like her sister, graduated from high school in Valley City. She attended the Fargo Conservatory of Music and then taught violin at Wesley College at the University of North Dakota. She was a member of Delta Zeta sorority and Sigma Alpha Iota, a national musical sorority, the PEO Monday Music Club and Musicana Society of Aberdeen and the Thursday Music Club at Grand Forks. She married Professor Merritt Johnson 3 August 1929. The couple had no children.

3. Willard married Margaret Saunders in Fargo, ND in 1940. They had two children.

Sarah and Olof's Granddaughters

The 4 daughters of Hilma and William Jennings Bryan Clark seem to have inherited the "music" gene, or perhaps it was more a case of a mother pushing her daughters into a musical career. It is said that Hilma "trained her daughters in music". The four girls were born between 1920 and 1926 in North Dakota and were named Jean Harriett Clark, Ann Elton Clark, Margaret Louise Clark and Mary Elizabeth Clark. As youngsters, they were known as the "Clark Kiddies" and were the official mascots of the Grand Forks American Legion drum and bugle corps. In October of 1929 they represented North Dakota at an elaborate vaudeville program in Louisville to which each state contributed one act. The following month Hilma died tragically after a brief illness at the age of just 32, leaving William a widower with four daughters aged 3 to 9. He remarried in 1934 to Rosella Buckley and had two additional daughters, Judy and Susan.

Hilma's daughters continued their music careers as they grew up, at one time joining Ran Wilde's band in Nicollet, Minnesota, singing under contract with USO and finally moving up to their billing with Tommy Dorsey's band as "The Sentimentalists". Dorsey hired them on the spot after an audition in their West 45th Street apartment in New York. He had had problems with his previous girl singer group and insisted on renaming the Clark Sisters as The Sentimentalists and retaining all rights to that name, an arrangement that was to cause the girls no end of grief in future years. Among their best known songs with Dorsey are "On The Sunny Side of the Street" and "Chicago". (If you click on these links to go to their songs on YouTube, you will find many other songs there in which they are featured. In some cases, the vocals don't begin until well into the piece, so be patient. You will also find their pictures there, but this is long before the era of the music video so don't expect any live performances.)

Not surprisingly, the girls dated and married musicians. Jean married Vernon ("Derf") Friley who played trombone for such notables as Duke Ellington's band. Ann married Leo Quercio, a saxophone player and five years later married Howard ("Pete") Terry, a woodwind player who was a member of the NBC orchestra and played for television's "Laugh-In" and "Dean Martin's Comedy Hour". Margaret ("Peggy") married Wilbur ("Willie") Schwartz who played lead clarinet with the Glenn Miller orchestra. Mary married Bruce Darwin Branson, a saxophonist in the Tommy Dorsey orchestra. As the sisters started to raise their families, the lifestyle that came with being big band singers must have lost some appeal. Not being able to use their connection or name from Tommy Dorsey, most carried on singing as individuals in movie and film work throughout the 1950's and 60's. Ann, for example, sang for the Andy Williams and Carol Burnett television shows. Peggy and Jean were kept busy as studio singers for many years.

Sarah's Great Grandchildren

Sarah has no doubt dozens of descendants across America, but with the music theme this week, I will focus on just the three children of Peggy and Willie Schwartz who have gone on to have highly successful careers in the music industry.

Nan Louise Schwartz is a music composer with dozens of television and movie credits, Emmy nominations and a 2014 Grammy award for her arrangement of Natalie Cole's "Here's That Rainy Day". She is well known for her film work including "Argo", "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part I".

Karen Ellen Schwartz is a singer with numerous musical credits and also at one time did the correspondence for Carol Burnett.

Douglas Wilbur Schwartz is a Grammy award winning mastering engineer who has worked on the music of such diverse musicians as Fishbone, Motley Crue, Los Lobos, Chuck Berry and Billie Holliday.

This branch of the family tree has indeed provided many very talented musicians who have contributed and continue to contribute to the entertainment industry in America. If you have listened to music over the past seven or eight decades or watched television or gone to the movies, you have undoubtedly been touched again and again by their art. Sarah and Olof would no doubt be proud of the achievements of these descendants.

Afterwords: Family Myth Debunked

For years there was a Bardahl family legend that we were related to the singer Peggy Lee. This is absolutely NOT true. It is understandable that wires got crossed with our branch of the family having moved to Canada in the pioneering days of the early 20th century, thereby becoming a bit out of touch from the American cousins. Margaret Clark also went by the name of "Peggy" and the Clark Sisters and Peggy Lee were all born in North Dakota at about the same time and all were singing in the Big Band era. Their paths did in fact cross. But Peggy Lee (born Norma Egstrom) had a very unhappy childhood and we are definitely NOT part of her Egstrom family. 


  • Cousin Roger Gordon compiled the family tree for Sarah's family and provided information and copies of newspaper articles about various members of her family. (As always, any errors in this story are mine alone and I would appreciate receiving notice of any necessary corrections.)
  • Clark Sister Website accessed online 13 July 2015 (Go here for some wonderful photos of the 4 sisters including one of the 3 oldest as the "Clark Kiddies".)
  • Wikipedia article for The Sentimentalists
  • Websites for Douglas, Pam and Karen Schwartz accessible through the hyperlinks given above

1 comment:

  1. Very impressive! I enjoyed hearing about those famous names and love that your family was part of it.
    Can't wait to get my DNA results back.