The Victor Borge Legacy Award: Celebrating 10 Years of Music

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Exhibition on view in the Multimedia Room in the Lower Level.

Who was Victor Borge?

Victor Borge was one of the most popular entertainers of the 20th century. Growing up, he was a piano prodigy and, as he grew older, he toured throughout Europe. However, as a Jewish man, the advent of World War II forced him to flee to the United States. Although he spoke very little English at first, he found that humor and music were both universal concepts and created an immensely successful career worldwide. By the end of his life, he was decorated with chivalric orders in all of the Nordic countries and was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors, among other accolades and awards.  

Victor Borge & the Museum of Danish America

Victor Borge has been an important part of the Museum of Danish America community for a long time. In the 1980s, he appeared in a promotional film for the museum (view this clip here in the Media Room!). He also donated some pieces to the museum’s collection, including the grand piano that sits in the Bro Room on the main floor. The piano is still played during special occasions, including the recital for the Victor Borge Legacy Award. After his passing, several pieces of clothing were gifted to the museum by his estate, and his family has also recently donated his professional archive. 

The Victor Borge Archive

In February 2020, the museum was able to acquire the Victor Borge Professional Archive. This contained 21 boxes of material relating to his career, from scripts to newspaper clippings and photographs to films. The project of archiving this material is a long-term project, but presented here are some of the interesting photographs and scripts that have been found in the collection thus far. Borge was famous around the world, so his career allowed him to meet a range of public figures, from musicians and actors to politicians and royalty. The collection of scripts included not only complete scripts from public appearances, but also individual jokes and even some of his notes on potential performance ideas. Over 1,000 pieces in the collection were audio-visual in nature. In order to best preserve them, the aim is to digitize them, a project that will cost approximately $42,000. Although we are still searching for funding sources, a small selection of six film reels were digitized and clips are included in the film playing now. 

The Victor Borge Legacy Award

The Victor Borge Legacy Award is an annual piano competition for young piano students in the Omaha, Southwestern Iowa, and Des Moines regions. It began in 2011, with the inaugural recital held at the museum in April 2012. Two winners are picked for each of the three regions during local competitions, and then the six winners are asked to write an essay that explores one aspect of Victor Borge’s life and legacy. Then, they are invited to the museum for a recital, during which they receive their prizes and the essay contest winner is announced. Janet Borge Crowle, Victor Borge’s daughter, and her husband Jim Crowle, have been supporters of this event from the beginning and Janet is one of the judges for the essay competition. Since its inception, 44 awards have been handed out to 39 different winners, as some students chose to compete in multiple years. Here, celebrate the past winners and explore some memories that have been created through this program. 

Film: Celebrating Victor Borge’s Legacy

To create this film, past Victor Borge Legacy Award winners were contacted about contributing clips that they felt best represented his legacy and what the award has meant to them. Their submissions are featured here, along with excerpts from essays by past winners that illustrate the impact Victor Borge’s story has had upon the next generation of piano talent. Interspersed with these are clips of Borge himself; most of the clips come from a small selection of recently-digitized film – part of the much larger Victor Borge Professional Archive. If you are interested in supporting our goal of digitizing the remaining films within the archive, please speak to a member of staff. The run time is approximately 20 minutes.

This virtual tour of The Victory Borge Legacy Award: Celebrating 10 Years of Music and Something Truly American are sponsored by Dennis Andersen.