Much of Jo Ann Castle’s long career has revolved around Lawrence Welk, who christened her the Queen of the Ragtime Piano when she joined his TV family more than a half-century ago. But even though she was still in her teens when she made her first guest appearance on his show (playing the accordion!) she was already a music professional with several years of experience behind her.
She was born as Jo Ann Zering in the country music hotbed of Bakersfield, California, and naturally enough took to it from an early age. Although she began singing while still a toddler, as she grew older she specialized in piano and accordion. By her early teens she had appeared on radio and even regional TV with country bands led by stars like Tex Williams and Spade Cooley, and within a couple of years she’d added Spike Jones’ national TV show to her resume, setting the stage for her initial appearance with Welk in 1958.
By the late 1950s, the Lawrence Welk Show was a popular attraction on the ABC network and many of its stable of regulars achieved a measure of stardom themselves. One of those was tenor Joe Feeney, who was in the early years of what would be a decades-long singing career with the band. He must have been a part-time talent scout too, because one day he introduced Jo Ann Castle to the maestro.
Things followed pretty much as you’d expect from there, with guest appearances leading to an invitation to join as a regular. It would be a career defining moment for her and the beginning of a long association with Lawrence Welk and his organization. And even though Welk has been gone for more than two decades now and Castle has diversified somewhat in the later years of her career — and has sold a lot of records too — she has still been known to show up from time to time at the musical complex in Branson that bears his name.