Local Current Blog

Music History Spotlight: Yogi Yorgesson, the ‘phony’ Minnesotan

Here on the Local Show, we normally focus on artists that actually live here. But sometimes, a record catches our eye with a Minnesota tie so intriguing, we just can’t keep it to ourselves.

This week, we’re having some fun with the track “My Little Old Shack (In Minneapolis, Minnesota)” by Yogi Yorgesson, AKA Harry Stewart with an exaggerated Scandinavian accent. Released in 1950 on Capitol Records, the song was a rendition of what was actually a big hit in 1934 for Ted Fio Rito: “My Little Grass Shack In Kealakekua, Hawaii.” But perhaps you know Yorgesson better for “I Yust Go Nuts At Christmas” or “Real Gone Galoot”,” which sold better in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan than anywhere else in the country, the Star Tribune reported in 1950.

Before his death in a 1965 car crash, Stewart wore many hats as a nationally famous entertainer throughout the ‘30s and ‘50s. Among them, he acted on radio shows, performed live and worked as a producer for Lassie (It appears the Lassie organist John Duffy is also on this record). He first developed the character Yogi while working on the Al Pearce show. Soon enough, he took the exaggerated Swedish accent to shows the country.

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While I couldn’t track down anything on what led Stewart to create a Minnesota-themed parody of the Hawaiian tune, I did find plenty of local news coverage on his visits here. The Winona Republican-Herald even featured a professor who had become known as a Yogi impersonator.

“Minnesota, lousy with Swedish accents, has gone overboard for a phony one that originates in Hollywood,” Star Tribune arts and entertainment columnist Will Jones wrote in 1950, ahead of a Duluth show.

From what I can tell, the Yogi character usually wore a turban and used a crystal ball (which was actually a fish bowl) as part of a bit. Stewart told Jones, “The thing was ripe for a comedy mystic … I thought it would be funny to have a mystic with a Swedish accent. I remembered those accents, from up north, and I practiced.”

Stewart had gotten the gig because of his records’ popularity in Minnesota, but he wasn’t very well received at this show in Duluth, Jones wrote in a follow-up piece. Whether it was the probable cultural insensitivity or another reason, the mystic act didn’t seem to fly. So when Stewart returned a few months later, he swapped his turban for a straw hat, and made more jokes about farming.

“Audiences, he found, liked him much better. Jokes about pigs and chickens, said Stewart, seem to go over well with his fans,” Jones wrote. “Minnesotans, said Stewart, will accept Yogi as long as he just sings.”

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 Jackie Renzetti studies journalism and political science at the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities. She is an editor at the Minnesota Daily and co-hosts Radio K’s “Off the Record.”

  • Three Slice Toaster

    His Christmas songs are played on one of the Sirius Christmas channels every year. He started in radio in Seattle, which also has a huge Norwegian population, and that’s where he perfected his act.