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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published February 16 2013

Did You Know That: ND politician may have been first to campaign with song

It is my impression that successful politicians and music are often linked.

During last year’s presidential campaign, we remember that on several occasions President Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and Herman Cain suddenly burst into song.

Many successful politicians have exhibited their musical ability while on the campaign trail. There was Harry Truman on the piano, Bill Clinton on the saxophone and North Dakota’s Art Link with the fiddle.

Popular singers who parlayed their musical success toward political aspirations include Jimmie Davis and Stuart Hamblen.

The first politician to employ his musical talent with a political campaign may have been a North Dakota office seeker – Mark Andrews. No, not the former U.S. congressman and senator, but his father, Mark Andrews Sr.

“Being possessed of a fine basso” voice, he studied music in New York City before returning home to help run the family farm.

Andrews was born Sept. 23, 1886, in Mapleton to Albion and Ada Jane (Healy) Andrews. His parents were “the first two physicians in Mapleton.” They received their medical degrees from the University of Michigan in 1877 and practiced medicine in New York City for two years before moving to Mapleton in May 1880.

It was common for Albion to be paid for his services by “a cow or a few bushels of oats.” According to historian Lewis Crawford, Albion’s “heart was not in his work, he was a born farmer.”

With the death of bonanza farmer John B. Raymond in 1886, land became available, and Albion purchased a couple of sections and began farming.

Mark Andrews graduated from Fargo High School in 1905 and, like his parents, attended the University of Michigan. He also “studied voice for several years under Dudley Buck of New York.” Buck was a noted composer of operas.

Most biographical information about Andrews stated that he sang with the New York Metropolitan Opera. I contacted them to find out the dates, operas and roles in which he performed. They replied, “We regret that we have no record of Mark Andrews.”

When the U.S. became involved in World War I, Andrews enrolled in the officer’s training camp at Fort Snelling, Minn., on Aug. 27, 1917.

He was commissioned as a captain in November and called into active service on Dec. 15. After spending time at Charlotte, N.C., and Long Island, N.Y., he was discharged on Dec. 31, 1918.

Andrews returned to Mapleton and became a partner with his older brother Arlo in running the family farm. Albion died in 1904. The brothers turned the farm into an innovative and successful enterprise. “They were among the earliest corn growers in the state and by the early 1920s were starting a big dairy herd with purebred Shorthorns.”

The brothers were also among the first in North Dakota to raise bees. They raised a large number of hogs, chickens and turkeys, and grew a variety of fruits and vegetables.

Besides farming, Mark Andrews put on concerts. In 1928, he ran for Cass County sheriff because the incumbent, John Ross, decided to retire.

One of the seven candidates was Andrew Ross, brother of the incumbent. He was a farmer and auctioneer who had previously served as sheriff from 1917 to 1921. Andrews and Andrew Ross were the top two vote-getters in the June 27 primary, moving on to the Nov. 6 general election. Andrews’ campaign included short speeches followed by a concert.

On the evening of Nov. 6, Fargo radio station WDAY held what it called the “Greatest North Dakota Election Party.” WDAY was on the air all night providing election results as they came in. In preparation, the station hired three orchestras and employed a large number of pianists, violin and accordion players, and singers.

Station owner Earl Reineke estimated that 250,000 listeners, “scattered throughout the northwest,” tuned in to catch election results.

A record 19,531 Cass County voters turned out in the 1928 general election, with 94 percent voting in the sheriff contest. Andrews received 11,634 votes to 6,765 for Ross.

Andrews received 53 percent of the votes in rural Cass County, but the surprise was that he received 71 percent of the votes in Fargo.

People soon referred to Mark as “the singing sheriff.”

Soon after being elected, Andrews became involved in a major controversy with Burleigh County. Clarence Hanson, the Burleigh County constable, arrived in Fargo to arrest a man accused of writing bad checks.

Andrews arrived before Hanson could take the man back to Bismarck. He arrested Hanson for “extortion,” put him in jail and disposed of the arrest warrant. Most of Andrews’ time as sheriff was viewed as successful, and he retired in 1933 to his farm.

Tragedy struck in 1936 when the farm house burned and most of the family records were destroyed.

A week before Christmas in 1938, Andrews suffered a stroke and died on Dec. 17.

Many people were reminded of Mark Andrews in 1944 when Universal Studios released the movie “The Singing Sheriff,” starring Bob Crosby. People from Cass County all knew who was the original “singing sheriff.”


“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments

or corrections to the Eriksmoensat cjeriksmoen@cableone.net