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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Enjoy the musical sounds of a Dubuque legend:






Paul Hemmer, Dubuque's favorite musician, composer, broadcaster, and contributor to this site is about to publish a book! After years of research into actors, dancers, musicians, theaters, ballrooms, theaters and more of Dubuqueland, his book is written in the style of an informative chat, as only Paul can do. Based upon my pre-release readings, you will uncover previously unknown facts, pictures, and human interest items galore. Check back here for more information.

Paul Hemmer
The definitive study of entertainment in Dubuque from 1900-1999 was written by Paul Hemmer and published in 2019.

HEMMER, Paul E. (Dubuque, IA, 1944- ). Hemmer began piano lessons in 4th grade and Hammond organ instruction several years later. At the age of twelve he was accompanying the adult choir at ST. COLUMBKILLE CATHOLIC CHURCH and at fifteen was working a part-time job as a disc jockey at WDBQ. (1) While still a student at WAHLERT CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL, he organized "Hemmer's Ambassadors," a combo that performed at school dances, church picnics and parties. (2)

From 1962-1966 while majoring in music education at University of Wisconsin-Platteville, Hemmer organized Paul Hemmer Swing Band, the first "stage band" at UW-P to perform at campus events. He also played substitute piano for the Joey Paradiso and Larry Foster orchestras in Dubuque and had a steady Friday through Sunday evening job at Timmerman's Supper Club in East Dubuque, Illinois playing both organ and valve trombone. (3) Hemmer graduated with a B. S. and M. S. in Music Education from UW-Platteville and was later inducted into the UW-P Music Department Hall of Fame. (4)

(1969) Paul Hemmer and his orchestra became popular musical entertainers. Photo courtesy: Paul Hemmer

In 1965 Hemmer completed enough arrangements to assemble his own 12-piece orchestra. They played big band arrangements of contemporary rock and pop tunes for area proms and occasional country club and private parties. By 1969 he had added enough "ballroom style" arrangements to start accepting engagements at area ballrooms. (5)

Hemmer became an "on the air" radio personality and morning announcer for WDBQ upon graduation from UW-P. He remained there until 1994. His wit and humor, including the many "characters" he developed over the years, gave him one of eastern Iowa's most loyal audiences. His collection of an estimated twelve thousand hours of old radio programs provided much of the material for the "Studio B" half-hour radio drama program.

In 1994, Paul; Jan, his wife; and son, Steve formed Hemmer Broadcasting Company and unveiled 97.3 KGRR-FM in Dubuque. The three operated the station successfully with a staff of nine until June of 2000 when he and two partners formed "Radio Dubuque" to operate KGRR-FM, KAT-FM, WVRE-FM and KDTH-AM. He continued as morning host on KGRR, and in August 2007 marked his fortieth anniversary as a morning radio host in Dubuque, IA. (6)

In 1975 Hemmer was commissioned to write an original musical comedy for Dubuque's celebration of the nation's bi-centennial. The result was GET THE LEAD OUT which ran for twenty-two performances at FIVE FLAGS CIVIC CENTER during July and August of 1976. (7)

    "It's hard to believe it's that long ago--1976.  I       
     remember traveling to Chicago in November of 1975
     to spend a weekend working in the Congress Hotel
     with Charles Giroux to work on the outline for the
     plot and plan where we'd put musical numbers. It
     was the only time we spent in-person until he
     returned to Dubuque in late May of 1976.  Every-
     thing else was done via phone and snail mail. What
     a different time it was then. 
     And, I wrote every note by hand. Today, I can do a
     full orchestration for the DSO [[DUBUQUE SYMPHONY
     ORCHESTRA]] and extract the parts completely
     transposed, etc. in the time it took me to copy just
     a single part for the 17 piece orchestra in our pit. 
Music provided by Paul Hemmer.

In 1981 JOE SENT ME!, a PROHIBITION era musical with 1920s style tunes poked fun at the Alphonse CAPONE connection to Dubuque. Joe Sent Me! ran for a month in Dubuque as well as two weeks at Theatre Americana in suburban Los Angeles, CA. (8) The same year he composed the music and lyrics for "Let's Hear It For Dubuque" used by the DUBUQUE AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE.

In 1991 Paul returned to musical theater with STEAMBOAT COMIN', another original show, that played at Five Flags.

He joined David RESNICK, another local composer, to write Sketches from a Drawing Room to celebrate Iowa's sesquicentennial in 1996. The revised show was produced in 1998 as Here's to Dubuque. Paul completed work on a revival of Joe Sent Me! which was staged at the GRAND OPERA HOUSE in February 2007.

Photo courtesy: Paul Hemmer

Hemmer concentrated twelve years on the big band sound with performances at hotels and ballrooms from Des Moines to Chicago. (9) In 2004 "The Paul Hemmer Swing Band" was reorganized to produce a series of 90-minute variety shows for The Celebration Belle Mississippi River Cruise company. The band recorded one LP and four cassettes of their brand of big band "sweet swing" and often played more than 120 shows per year. (10) He also hosted a pre-recorded feature called "Nice & Easy" on 1370 KDTH.

From 1999 to 2003 Hemmer and two other musician partners owned and operated a jazz club - "Duke's Place" –where live music ranging from Dixieland to blues acts was featured each Tuesday, Thursday, Friday & Saturday night. Business declined, and the club was sold in April 2002. (11)

Paul Hemmer in the WDBQ control room (1976). Photo courtesy: Paul Hemmer

In 1994 Hemmer founded Classic Rock KGRR. In 2000 he sold the station to RADIO DUBUQUE.

In 2008 Paul was named Official Pops Arranger for the DUBUQUE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA. His original composition, We Remember Christmas for chorus and orchestra was featured several times. He has scored more than 100 orchestrations for that orchestra as well as The Cheyenne Symphony, Owensboro Symphony, Northeast Indiana Symphony, UW-Platteville Symphony, and the Thunder Bay Ontario Orchestra. (12) Paul served eleven years as the choir director of ST. ANTHONY'S CHURCH and wrote many choral pieces of two masses. (13)

On Friday, January 8, 2010, Hemmer signed off radio announcing with "So, auf Wiedersehen, Dubuque." Over the previous forty-two years, he had signed on more than 21,000 times and amassed about 86,000 on-air hours-- the equivalent of being on the air non-stop for almost ten years. (14)


In March, 2010 the board of the Grand Opera House announced that Hemmer had been hired to be the new general manager. Hemmer announced that he intended to make marketing a top priority and would work on selling sponsorships of events and shows. He also wanted to work with schedules so that people attending events would be out by 10:00 p.m. at the latest. The Grand subsequently grew artistically and financially. In 2011 the theater hosted over one hundred events with record-breaking crowds attending performances of "The Buddy Holly Story," "Phantom of the Opera," and "Singin' in the Rain." (15) A past president of the DUBUQUE ARTS COUNCIL, Hemmer continued to book their popular "Sunday at 6:30" Series musical programs for the DUBUQUE ARBORETUM AND BOTANICAL GARDENS. (16)

Photo used in association with the First Citizen Award. Photo courtesy: Paul Hemmer

Paul's contributions to Dubuque have been widely recognized. He received the "School Bell" Award in 1975 from the IOWA STATE EDUCATION ASSOCIATION. In 1976 he became the youngest recipient of the FIRST CITIZEN AWARD since the program was started in 1971 by the TELEGRAPH HERALD. Governor Robert Ray's "Media in the Arts" award was presented to him the same year for his development of "Book Talk," a book review program produced with the CARNEGIE-STOUT PUBLIC LIBRARY. He is a past president of the Rotary Club of Dubuque and was twice was named Rotarian of the Year. (17)

One of the unique honors received by Hemmer came on January 8, 1990. At a chamber music concert given by flutist Carol Wincene in Orchestra Hall, Carol performed "Lazy Mississippi" from "Get the Lead Out," by Paul Hemmer, as an encore. The number had been arranged by eminent American composer Peter Schickele, known widely as "PDQ Bach." In addition to standing to receive the audience's congratulations, Hemmer afterward was presented the manuscript. (18)

Recognizing his many musical talents, the DUBUQUE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA in 2006 awarded Hemmer the title of Official Arranger in the Symphony. At the time the vice-president of Radio Dubuque, morning co-host of 97.3 KGRR-FM, and the composer of four original musical comedies, Hemmer was noted by symphony conductor William INTRILIGATOR as a person who arranged quickly and had a great ear for instrumentation. While working on his master's degree in music at the University of Platteville, Hemmer studied composition and arranging. Hemmer also suggests that he studied with famed musicians Nelson Riddle and Henry Mancini by listening to their music and reading their books on arranging. He utilizes "Finale", a music instrument digital interface, with a piano keyboard and a regular computer keyboard. (19)

In 2019 Paul Hemmer remained the youngest person to receive the Telegraph Herald's FIRST CITIZEN AWARD. He received the honor in 1976 at the age of 32. (20)

On August 11, 2019, Hemmer was joined by family, friends, civic leaders and music enthusiasts at the DUBUQUE SHOOTING SOCIETY for an autograph party. After years of musical experience in Dubuqueland, Hemmer wrote Entertaining Dubuque: The Untold Story 1900-1999, the definitive study of actors, dancers, musicians, ballrooms, theaters and nightclubs, featuring previously unpublished information and hundreds of pictures.



1. Gloss, Megan, "Leading Lights of Music," The Arts in the Tri-States (special publication), Telegraph Herald, May 23, 2019, p. 36

2. Stevens Orchestra Project Online: http://stevensorchestra.tripod.com/id80.html

3. Ibid.

4. National Philanthropy Day Award Winners. "Paul Hemmer," Julien's Journal, November 2011, p. 67

5. Stevens.

6. Ibid.

7. Paul Hemmer, e-mail, Nov. 2, 2010

8. Stevens.

9. Ibid.

10. "Paul Hemmer," p. 68

11. Stevens

12. Gloss

13. "Paul Hemmer"

14. "Dubuque Legend Hemmer to Retire," Radio Ink Magazine, January 7, 2010. Online: http://www.radioink.com/Article.asp?id=1651340&spid=24698

15. "Paul Hemmer"

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.

18. Johnston, Helen, "Praise for Hemmer," (editorial) Telegraph Herald, January 19, 1990, p. 3

19. Voight, Sandye, "Noting His Efforts," Telegraph Herald, December 8, 2006, p. 13C

20. Gloss

"175 Years" Vol. II Telegraph Herald, p. 115