One of the most popular entertainers in the Upper Midwest was born and raised on a farm near Binford.
Ernest Iverson was one of the most popular country/cowboy singers in Minnesota during the 1930s, '40s, and '50s. For more than 25 years, he teamed up with his younger brother, Clarence, forming the duo Slim Jim and the Vagabond Kid.
Besides his daily broadcasts out of Minneapolis, Ernest Iverson also toured North Dakota with his band, Slim Jim and His Rough Riders. He was also the first singer to popularize "Scandihoovian dialect songs."
Ernest Leo Harlan Iverson was born near Binford, 50 miles west of Mayville, on Oct. 14, 1903, to Nils/Nels and Eliza (Thorson) Iverson. Clarence Truman Iverson was born Dec. 27, 1905. In 1910, Eliza Iverson died, and Nils Iverson hired Molly Rood, a Norwegian immigrant, as the housekeeper. She taught the boys how to play the guitar and introduced them to many Norwegian songs.
The family later moved near Brooten, Minn., where the boys continued their education. After completing the eighth grade, Ernest Iverson quit school, hooked up with a carnival in Devils Lake and traveled south to Wichita Falls, Texas, where he found a job singing part-time at a local radio station. It was at the station that the lanky 6-foot, 4-inch youngster acquired the nickname Slim Jim.
In Wichita Falls, Iverson opened a garage, but when that was unsuccessful, he found employment working in the oil fields. In 1925, he was crushed between two pieces of heavy equipmen. After a long hospital stay, he journeyed to Omaha, Neb., and, in 1927, was hired as a singer at radio station WAAW. The station bestowed upon him a new moniker, "the Master Troubadour."
When his show became successful, a local cathartic (laxative) company, Crazy Water Crystals, saw an opportunity to widely advertise its product. It changed Iverson's title to "The Traveling Troubadour" and scheduled him weekly at radio stations in Iowa, South Dakota and Lincoln, Neb., before heading back to Omaha.
The money was good, but the schedule was taking a heavy toll on Iverson. This gave him an opportunity to employ his younger brother into his acts. In 1931, Crazy Water Crystals made a fateful mistake by expanding the traveling schedule to include Minneapolis. Not only did the schedule prove too grueling, but the Iverson Brothers loved Minneapolis so much that they decided to stay.
They were hired by station WDGY, next to WCCO, the most-listened-to station in the Twin Cities. WAAW and Crazy Water Crystals desperately went looking for another brother act to replace the Iversons. They finally settled on Charlie and Bill Monroe, with the latter brother becoming "The Father of Bluegrass."
On his long tour drives prior to moving to Minneapolis, Iverson had formulated the type of radio program he would like to implement if he had the opportunity to do it on a regular basis. It included cowboy songs, sentimental recitations, comic novelty numbers, ballads, and Norwegian dialect songs. He would do an occasional ballad or polka and close with words of inspiration and a religious song. At WDGY, Ernest had that opportunity.
His show soon became a hit, and people would plan their day so that they could be at home to listen to Slim Jim and the Vagabond Kid.
In 1933, WDGY first introduced experimental television to Minneapolis, and the Iversons became a couple of the first TV stars with their weekly show.
The Iverson brothers composed many of their own hits. One song that Ernest Iverson loved was "Nikolina," a popular Swedish song in America. His Norwegian-dialect version of it became his signature song.
From 1943-45, Ernest Iverson was on his own while his brother saw action in France during World War II. Clarence Iverson's return was brief, because he retired in 1948.
Iverson's daily radio show continued to be a hit into the 1950s and during that decade, he also hosted his own weekly television program, "Slim Jim's Westerners." On Sept. 24, 1958, Iverson suffered a heart attack and died. Clarence Iverson had returned to Binford, where he died on Jan. 10, 1990.
Ernest Iverson may have been gone, but he was not forgotten. From 1972-77, Minneapolis hosted the Snoose Boulevard Festival, a celebration of Scandinavian culture, traditions and music. At each of the celebrations, the memory of Ernest Iverson was honored.
Garrison Keillor, on radio's "Prairie Home Companion," occasionally sung or had a guest perform one of Ernest Iverson's songs. He jokingly said that Slim Jim was "sponsored by Whoopee Time Oatmeal." In 2003, Ernest Iverson was inducted into the Minnesota Broadcasting Hall of Fame.
Ernest Iverson made only a few recordings during his lifetime, but fortunately, beginning in the 1980s, Howard Pine, who had worked on his radio show, began releasing albums and CDs of Slim Jim.
For a special treat, I encourage you to go to https://archive.org/details/ErnestAndClarenceIverson, where you can listen to some of the songs featuring Slim Jim and the Vagabond Kid.
(Reach Curt Eriksmoen at email@example.com.)