MANKATO — Henry Busse Jr. was an archive of jazz and shared it enthusiastically throughout a career in broadcasting, including at KMSU, KYSM and KTOE in Mankato.
Busse is best known for his jazz show on MSU station KMSU from the late ‘70s to early ‘90s.
Former Mankato broadcaster Greg Husak said the music and history of the big bands enveloped Busse’s life.
“When he was at festivals, I noticed he never watched the bands like everyone else was. He’d just be looking off and was somewhere else. The music transported him,” Husak said. “The KMSU show was really an opportunity for him to stretch out and play the music and tell the stories.”
Busse, who died this week at age 82, was immersed in jazz early on by his trumpet-playing father Henry Busse Sr., who gained great renown in the early- and mid- 1900s.
“He was such an amazing fount of information because of his father,” said Lona Falenczykowski, who worked with Busse at KMSU.
Busse’s complete passion for music sometimes left him lacking in paying attention to other details and left him on the wrong side of radio station general managers, she said.
“He got fired a number of times, all over the country. He had a mind of his own,” Falenczykowski said.
Busse’s passion for jazz grew from his legendary father, whose colorful life was followed by jazz enthusiasts and gossip columnists.
A German immigrant, Busse Sr. made it big in the ‘20s and later formed his own band that toured the country and helped shape the big band sound. Busse Jr. was born in 1931 and was 3 when his parents divorced. Busse Sr.’s life wound up in gossip columns when he partied one night with a woman at the Hotsy Totsy Club and woke up married. It took him 18 months to get an annulment.
Busse Sr. died at age 61 while playing at an undertakers convention in Tennessee.
Busse Jr. kept his father’s horn on his mantel and collected every bit of history about his dad.
“The reason Henry was so close to the music is because it made him feel closer to his dad, because his dad wasn’t around very much,” Husak said.
While his life was far less flamboyant than his father’s, Busse Jr. brought Mankato some notoriety in 1957 when he won a contest for on-air jazz personalities hosted by Playboy magazine.
The prize? Entertaining Janet Pilgrim, who was a three-time cover model for Playboy. Busse told the Chippewa Herald, in a 2011 interview, that one thing was on his mind and that of his staff. “What will she be wearing.” That was resolved when she arrived at KMSU in a business suit and high-neck blouse.
Busse interviewed Pilgrim on his show and the two hosted a charity event at the Kato Ballroom, where dances with Pilgrim were auctioned.
In the early- to mid-1950s, the young Busse did the KYSM jazz night show. He married Kim Krueger, who he met at MSU. They have one daughter. Kim died two years ago.
Busse worked at several stations, including in Milwaukee, Denver and Boulder. In 1962 he called KYSM General Manager Bob DeHaven saying he wanted to return to Mankato. He worked at KYSM until 1968 when a new station manager fired him.
Busse then taught for 10 years at Brown Institute before working at KTOE radio for a short time in 1979 and then taking a job at KMSU, a gig he held until 1994.