Mullen Family Orchestra played for many events in the 1950s and ’60s
January 31, 2011
As soon as guests step into the living room of Ann Mullen’s home in Norfolk, Neb., their eyes are drawn to a most unusual corner display – a six foot bass viola. For Ann, it brings to mind many happy memories of “those were the days.”
The happy memories started in 1944 when Ann Disterhautt of Atkinson, Neb., went to a dance and met John Mullen of Emmett, Neb. John played the saxophone in his family band which included his mother, brother and sister. Following a courtship which included many dances, John and Ann were married August 1,1945.
They established their home first at Emmett and later at Atkinson, and started their family of four girls, three boys and later two more girls.
John, continued playing in the family band which was sandwiched in between his electrician job. Because of his musical background, John encouraged his four daughters to learn a musical instrument. Soon he started thinking about starting a band with his own family. Although Ann wasn’t a musician, John convinced her if she was willing to learn to play the viola, she would be able to be part of the family band. So, Ann ordered a bass viola, for $89, from a catalogue. John, who could play any musical instrument, started teaching her how to play it and in a few months she had it mastered. “I had to wear tape on my fingers for a while,” she said. “They got so sore.”
By 1955, John had his players ready to form their family band, “The Mullen Family Orchestra.” Besides John and Ann, the group included the four girls, ranging in age from 5 to 9. Mary Ellen played the accordion, Betty – the piano, Nancy – the drums, and Kati played the clarinet. John played the saxophone and Ann her new bass viola.
The group played for dances, anniversaries, weddings, and at County Fairs. One event especially highlights her memories. On New Year’s Eve of 1956, they played at a dance in Verdigre, a distance of 70 miles from their home. They got home in the wee hours of the morning and the temperature was 7 degrees below zero. They received $35 for the job. From this, they paid $5 for an extra driver because John didn’t want to drive the long distance home after playing that long, and another $5 for the baby sitter they hired to stay with the younger children at home.
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The family moved to Norfolk in 1961, which offered more opportunities for an electrician, but it wasn’t so good for the band. The group wasn’t as well known in the area, there were fewer opportunities for a small band to play and the children were getting to the age of having other interests. They did play at the popular northeast Nebraska ballrooms, Riverside and Kings Ballroom, once but soon after that they decided to quit.
Ann was widowed 30 years ago and still makes her home in Norfolk. She enjoys reminiscing about the days with the family band and although she never plays the bass viola, she enjoys having it as a showpiece in her home.