Jo Ann Castle

              

 

    

 

"Jo Ann Castle doesn’t tickle the Ivories, she hammers them—as if she is building the piano instead of playing it." This recent observation by TV Guide helps describe the timeless appeal of the bouncy blond who has been entertaining American audiences since her debut on The Lawrence Welk Show over 40 years ago.

Today, Jo Ann Castle is renowned for both her incredible piano, which blends the veracity of Jerry Lee Lewis with the flamboyance of Liberace, and her fantastic showmanship, showcased in live performances infused with a veritable mix of comedy, sass and boundless energy. 

Jo Ann began her career in Bakersfield, California, where she began singing, dancing and performing within the local Bakersfield community at the age of three.  By age seven, she was studying classical music and, at the age of ten, moved with her family to Ventura, California, with her then six-year old sister, Diane, and started picking out tunes on the accordion.  She was dazzled by its brilliant decorations and sound, but she was really dazzled into studying it seriously when, at that time, she first met Lawrence Welk backstage in Ventura where he was making an appearance.  Welk listened to her, commented favorably on her fine musicianship, and that clinched her decision "to become a famous accordion star!"

Her first professional work in Hollywood was as an accordionist and singer on Tex Williams' radio network show when she was 15.  At 17, she made her own network TV debut playing the piano and accordion for Ina Ray Hutton and her All-Girl Orchestra, "King of Western Swing" Spade Cooley, Spike Jones and Arthur Godfrey on his Talent Scout TV Show.  By now, Jo Ann had formed her own band and was appearing regularly at the Dunes and Fremont Hotels in Las Vegas where she recorded her first album entitled "Accordion in Hi-Fi" for Roulette Records. During this time, she began augmenting her classical piano training with jazz, ragtime and honky-tonk piano.

When Welk heard the album, he immediately invited her to make the first of several guest appearances on his ABC-televised show playing her  now-noted honky-tonk piano.  On New Year's Eve, in 1958, she made her second guest appearance with the Champagne Music maestro Lawrence Welk, and in August of 1959, she was signed as a "regular" on the popular Welk television show, replacing the show’s Big Tiny Little.  Castle went on to become one of the Show's most popular entertainers earning the titles of "Ragtime Piano Gal" and "Queen of the Honky-Tonk Piano" for her rollicking renditions of the genre's classic tunes and her own compositions.

Jo Ann left the Show in 1970 to care for her eldest daughter, Deana, who was afflicted with cerebral palsy, and raise a son, Billy, and second daughter, Joanie.  She returned to the music scene in the 1980s, when the jazz label Ranwood signed her to a contract. She has since written and recorded many collections of Ragtime & Honky-Tonk favorites, interspersing Ragtime, Honky-Tonk and Boogie-Woogie standards with many of her own originals.

Since 1994, she has headlined at the Lawrence Welk Champagne Theater in Branson, Missouri with the talented and beautiful Lennon Sisters. 

Most recently, Jo Ann hosted the "Legendary Liberace" TV Special on PBS.  She also continues to host PBS Specials and perform live across the Country.


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