Adolph Lesser’s colorful career as a musician and entertainer spanned some sixty-five years before his stroke in 1996. Adolph remains one of the most prominent musical figures in the Rocky Mountain region and is affectionately known as the “Old Master”.
Born in Loveland, Colorado in 1915, Adolph was the second youngest of eight sons and one daughter. The family always had music in their house and Adolph’s parents were Germans who immigrated to the Volga area of Russia in the late 1800’s. In 1913, the family came to America. As a young boy, Adolph tried to learn every instrument he could get his hands on including the button accordion, pump organ, harmonica and dulcimer. He bought his first piano accordion for $200 during the days of the Depression. Adolph had tow older brothers who were professional musicians in Russia and he would tag along with them to various dances and weddings.
Eventually he was able to afford to take the bus to Denver every week to take lessons from Tony Ferraro, who was an NBC Radio studio artist. He also studied under Alfred Antonio, who came to Loveland every week to teach.
Adolph’s professional career began at the ripe old age of fifteen, and within a year he had an organized band and was playing over KFKA Radio in Greeley, Colorado every morning at 6:30. The radio show was great exposure for Adolph and the band, and they traveled to neighboring states for weddings, fairs, and barn dances. The band varied from four to six to eight pieces depending on the venue. The band played steadily from 1939-1940 when polka dances began wearing thin. During this time, Adolph continued to play solo or with one or two other pieces at many of the small mining towns in Colorado including Dacono, Frederick, and Firestone, often one of the few who stayed playing polkas.
Uncle Sam had a very different mission in mind for Adolph, one that had very little in common with music. He went into the Army on January 7, 1942, exactly one month after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and less than a month after he married Cecilia Stratman. Initially stationed in California, Adolph entertained his fellow serviceman and also played in nightclubs with local West Coast groups. Adolph was then deployed to the European Theatre with the 35th Division until the war ended, serving in several major battles including the Invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. The Queen Mary, now docked in Long Beach, California, provided transportation home from Europe, during which time Adolph played with a Western band for two shows a day on the ship. In 1945, home from the service for only two weeks, Adolph played six weddings for six nights straight.
The demand for Dutch hop music was so great after the war that Adolph and a dear friend opened the Garden City Ballroom near Greeley, CO. The ballroom was a great success. Saturday nights, however, were always reserved for Polka dances and the ballroom always seemed to be rented on Sundays for weddings.
The year 1950 was a big one for Adolph. Fred Curle of Colombia Records took a great interest in Adolph’s music and Columbia made arrangements to put the Lesser band under contract. Adolph had a booking agent and his recordings were heard on major networks throughout the United States. The group traveled extensively for Columbia and played a series of “Battle of the Bands” with Frank Yankovic, America’s Polka King. One of these performances drew over 4,000 people to the largest ballroom in Nebraska, a venue with room for only 3,000 people. Frank and Adolph remained close friends throughout their lives, often playing at the same festivals around the country.
After a successful six years, Adolph and his partner sold the ballroom and Adolph built his music store on South 8th Avenue in Greeley. Lesser Music was the cornerstone for young people from all over Northern Colorado who wanted to study the accordion. When the Rock & Roll craze hit, Adolph added guitar teachers and had a successful business selling amplifiers and guitars as well as accordions. Adolph and his wife, Cecilia, ran the music store for nearly twenty years.
1955 brought another change to Adolph and Cecelia’s life, the addition of a daughter to their family. Adolph’s daughter, Cyndi, remembers growing up in the music store, starting accordion lessons at the age of five, and later studying the clarinet, tenor sax, and button accordion with equal expertise. Cyndi joined her father’s band in 1970 and is a versatile and well-recognized musician in her own right.
Adolph was inducted into the Colorado Polka Hall of Fame in 1976 and was honored with the European-American Music Award at the Grand Polka Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada in September 1999. While the highlights of his career have been numerous, Adolph would tell you that his fondest memories would have to include all of the people he has met, the many friends he has made, as well as the many talented musicians with whom he has worked and shared the stage with over thirty years.
The Volga German music has had limited exposure in many areas of the United States because these people settled primarily in Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, and North Dakota. However, Adolph’s style of music is no less ethnic than Slovenian, Polish, or other German styles of music. Adolph has always been proud of his Volga German heritage and enjoyed sharing this unique style of polka music with people from all areas of the United States, playing at various Polka Fests and Oktoberfests in Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska, Arizona, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Minnesota.
Although his stroke has created some obstacles over the past five years and leaving Adolph unable to lead the band, Adolph cherishes the love and support of Cecilia and Cyndi, his family, and his many friends and fellow musicians. Music will always remain in the heart and soul of the “Old Master”