Friends remember Doublemint gum jingle writer who died in Cedaredge
May 29, 2007
In the months before he died, Paul Severson would come to the Gary Smith Productions’ recording studio in Grand Junction dressed in his pajamas and slippers. He’d sit at the keyboards for hours working on music.A week before he died he wrote a complete score for a symphonic jazz piece called “Run with the Wind,” said Smith, a longtime friend. “He’d written a song he wanted to get out. He was producing music.”You may not have heard of Severson – at his memorial service last Friday Smith called him “one of the most famous arrangers/composers you never heard of.” But many will likely remember the Doublemint gum jingle, “Double your pleasure, double your fun with Doublemint gum” a commercial he wrote for radio in the 1950s, that later ran on television. He also composed the music for Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom,” and a slew of other commercials and television shows. Severson died at home in Cedaredge on May 20, at 78. Severson first lived in Grand Junction from 1973-79. He and his family moved to his hometown of Fargo, N.D., to be near relatives, and then back to Grand Junction in the 1990s. They left again to live near his wife’s parents in Minnesota. A year ago, Severson and his wife Karen Warren Severson came to Cedaredge. Severson knew he was dying.He always felt the Western Slope was home, and after being diagnosed with prostate cancer, he wanted to come back to Colorado, said his wife Karen Warren Severson. “He loved it here. He came here to die.”Wherever he went Severson was involved in writing music, and as a performer played trumpet or keyboards with various bands and orchestras – including the CBS Chicago Staff Orchestra, the Stan Kenton Orchestra and the Chicago Civic Symphony. Severson also performed with jazz musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Stan Getz.Severson composed music for a number of national commercials in Chicago before moving to Grand Junction in the early 1990s. In Chicago, Severson would get up at 3 a.m. to catch the train into the city where he wrote jingles for CBS, said his daughter Karen Severson, who resides in Grand Junction. “He always came up and sang to me after I’d gone to bed, whenever he got home from work,” Karen said. “After he left CBS, he really tried to put work on the back burner and be there for the family – that’s one reason why we moved here.”Severson went into semi-retirement. Little by little, however, Severson found jazz buddies in Grand Junction – people like Smith, Walt Smith of Battlement Mesa, Chuck and Jeanie Thomas, and the late Skip Nelson – who had also played with the CBS orchestra. They’d play local jazz gigs together.”Retirement meant he worked nights,” Karen said. “He’d go off to play somewhere.” “It was great for me, working with a man like that,” Gary Smith said. “It’s a dream. When working with the best, it rubs off on you. In the music business, it’s common to find people who are insecure. Not Paul. He never, ever said a bad thing about anybody. There was sort of a glow around him; He had an infectious smile.”Bill Robinson, who headed the Mesa State Theater department from 1960 to 1988, also had an opportunity to work with Severson. Severson composed the music for the musical “Princess,” which Robinson produced. “He was quite a jazz man,” Robinson said. “He was a very sweet man, truly a gentleman.”
Listening to numerous people speak about him, it’s clear Severson was a deeply spiritual man, as well as an accomplished musician.Carl Wahlberg, a retired Mesa State College administrator, knew Severson on three levels – socially, professionally and through the Church of Religious Science they both attended. Severson taught music at Mesa State College for two years when asked to fill in for a colleague who was ill.”He was an unusual person, not only with musical talent, but also his verbal talents, his mental talents. He had a spiritual dimension that attracted people to him,” Wahlberg said.Severson served as a moderator and lay minister of two Unitarian Universalist fellowships in Grand Junction and in Fargo, N.D. His spiritual search led him to study Eastern religions, Native American spirituality, science, philosophy and mysticism. After four years of study, he became a Church of Religious Science practitioner.Not long before Severson died, Wahlberg and two friends drove to Cedaredge to visit him. At that point, Severson was bedridden. They went to cheer him, and he ended up cheering them.”We talked about books, experiences. He had a very good sense of humor. We left there all three of us enlightened, motivated, and we were certainly energized,” Wahlberg said. A service was held for Severson May 24, in Minnesota. Another service was held last Friday in Grand Junction. A final service will be held June 5, in Severson’s birthplace, Fargo, N.D.Severson had friends from all over the country.”He kept in touch with people no matter where he lived,” said Karen Warren Severson, his wife of 20 years. “He valued the people he met over the years and didn’t want to let go of them.”Many people who attended the memorial service in Grand Junction took turns sharing memories of Severson. One woman said “Paul was transparent to the light.”A phrase that Karen Warren Severson said brings her “tremendous solace.””It’s true. He was a person like that. He was someone you could turn to for wise council. He wasn’t judgmental.”Reach Sharon Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.