Bernie Witkowski – Bernie Wyte – was born in New York, a fourth generation of clarinet players. His talent didn’t stop with playing the clarinet; he also plays sax, accordion, flute, drums and organ, writes the words and music to songs, introduces new dances and finds time to conduct a successful radio show. He studied music at New York University where he received an M.A. degree.
As an A & R Man of the Stella Recording and Publishing Company many of his recordings featured the triple-threat combination of his original composition, arrangement and direction. The Witkowski Orchestra introduced many of the figure dances, namely: “Side By Side,” “Swing And Sway,” “Grasshopper,” “Merry-go-Round,” and others.
In addition to Stella Records, he recorded on Victor, Columbia, Decca, Dana, Continental and Standard Records. He recorded the greatest number of selections, more than any other artist. Among his hits were “Fire Polka,” “Hey Krajewski Polka” and “Hot Pretzels.”
Excelling in Polka music, the Witkowski Orchestra was at home with the cha-cha, twist, fox-trot, rock and roll, etc. … Bernie and his Orchestra played at the Waldorf Hotel, Latin Quarter, Star Club, La Conga, Monte Carlo, Havana Madrid and Madison Square Garden in New York at the Harvest Moon Polka Contest for many years.
A few years prior to his induction, he competed on the NBC program “Live Like A Millionaire” and won the contest playing the “Clarinet Polka.” He received interest (2% of one million dollars), a Pontiac, RCA Color TV, One Week Vacation and a Diamond Ring. As Bernie explained it, “I enjoyed living like a millionaire, but to tell the truth, I enjoy it more when people tell me my music sounds like a million bucks.”
In his many appearances he made acquaintances with Frank Sinatra, Sophie Tucker, Milton Berle, Jackie Gleason, Xavier Cugat, Benny Goodman, Sammy Kaye, Harry James, Vincent Lopez, Henri Rene, Abbe Lane, Governor Rockefeller, and others.
Polka fans in New Jersey and New York listened to his radio show now on WEVD-FM Sundays at 8:00 p.m.
He has passed away.