Viola Turpeinen Biography Other Viola Turpeinen CD's
Turpeinen (1909-1958) was the best-known Finnish American
accordionist of her time. The second volume of her complete
recordings takes us through the years 1929-45.
Viola was born to a Finnish-American family in Champion.
Michigan and learned to play the accordion from Italian
immigrant musicians in her hometown. In 1927 she teamed
with the Finnish violinist John (Jukka) Rosendahl. They
toured Finnish-American communities all over America an
signed a recording contract with the Victor Talking Machine
Company in New York. By early 1929, they had already made
more than twenty records. On May 10th they were again called
to the Victor studios at 111 East 58th Street to record
Guido Deiro's Derina polka-mazurka (under the Finnish title
Ihana maa) and three Finnish dance tunes, Tahti valssi,
Kaustisen polkka, and Iloinen polkka.
Soon after the recording session, Viola made her only visit
to Finland. Viola and John crossed the Atlantic on the steamship
Gripsholm, performing for passengers in all classes. They
arrived in Helsinki on May 31st. On June 7th they played
for an audience of 1200 at the Workers Hall (Tyovaentalo)
in Helsinki. Afterwards they traveled widely in Finland
and returned to New York in August on the Gripsholm. They
played in New York for a couple of weeks and continued their
tour to the Midwest. On Monday, October 29th they appeared
at the Camels Hall in Duluth. There they met another Finnish-American
accordionist, Sylvia Polso's scrapbook contains advertisements
for dances dated January 1930. The group usually appeared
as Viola Turpeinen & Co, or under the names of all three
players. The new trio became very popular. Between January
and October they visited nearly all Finnish communities
in the Great Lakes area. The list of their appearances includes
Ashland, Aurora, Bark Point, Bessemer, Cloquet, Cromwell,
Crystal Falls, Duluth, Escanaba, Eveleth, Hancock, Hibbing,
Iron River, Ironwood, Ishpeming, Keewatin, L'anse, Maple,
Marquette, Mass City, Michigamme, Montreal, Negaunne, Pike
River, Mamsay, Sault Ste.Marie, South Range, Stambaugh,
Toivola, Trout Lake, Van Buskirk and Virginia.
In October 1930, the tiro traveled east through Illinois,
Ohio, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. In New York John
Rosendahl decided to quit the music business for a while
to devote his time to speculation on the stock market. Viola
and Sylvia teamed with accordionist Antti Kosola and turmpetist
William (Vili) Syrjala to play at the Finnish Workers Hall
in New York, where were billed as the Finnish Accordion
By this time, depression had hit the recording industry,
and the output of new recordings declined rapidly. Viola
had not been called to the studios in 1930, but although
record companies had now dropped most of their Finnish-American
artists, the "Viola, Sylvia & John Instumental
tiro" was invited to record five titles for Victor
on August 3, 1931. Four of the titles were tratitional dance
tunes, hut John now made his first and only vocal recording,
a comic song called Neuvoja naimattomille (Advice to bachelors).
The title was soon to prove auspicious.
After the recording session the traveled to Michigan, where
they appeared at Finnish Halls. However, on November 11th
the Finnish-American newspaper Raivaaja reported that Viola
had started his own orchestra in Duluth. The reasons for
the breakup were obvius. John has started a romantic relationsip
with Sylvia, which Viola could not accept. In January 1932
John and Sylvia returned without Viola to New Jersey where
they played a few dances, and then toured New England until
they received a regular engagement at the Temple of Labor
(Tyon Temppeli). a dance hall owned by Finnish-American
communist organizations in New York.
Soon afterwards, John Rosendahl was killed in a freak accident.
He slipped after taking a bath and broke his neck. Sylvia
immediately took him to Harlem hospital where his life ended
at 0.40 AM on January 18th, 1932. After John's death, Sylvia
stayed in show business.
Meanwhile Viola has also returned to New York and joined
Antti Kosola's orchestra at the nearby Finnish Workers Hall.
Subsequently she teamed with William Syrjala and married
him in 1933. The following year, June 18th 1934, they recorded
six titles for Victor as the Viola Turpeinen Trio, with
Syrjala on trumpet and Werner Birch (Koivunen) at the piano.
By this time, American record companies had for all practical
purposes stopped recording immigrant artists. It was proof
of Viola's huge popularity that in 1938 she was again called
to the Victor studios in New York. This time she made her
debut as a singer, accompanying herself on the accordion.
The titles recorded were Unelma valssi (Dream waltz), written
by William Syrjala, and Kahden venheessa (In a boat together),
a current hit from Finland. In the coming years Viola was
often featured as a singer, but none of her later recordings
quite captures the haunting quality of Unelma valssi.
The remaining eight tracks on this CD are from 1945, when
Viola has signed a new recording contract with Standard
Records of New York. Her first recordings for the new company
were instrumental dance tunes designed to appeal to a wider
Scandinavian-American public. We will follow her career
after 1945 in volume three of this series, which is scheduled
to appear shortly.