Bill Czerniak was born on June 20th, 1946, to Martha and Joe Czerniak–Joe is a 1989 inductee to the Polka Hall of Fame–of Duluth, Minnesota. At the age of six, Bill began taking concertina lessons from his father. Within a couple of years, Bill was making appearances with his dad and brother at local talent shows, wedding receptions, and parties. In addition, Bill and his younger brother Greg, made numerous appearances on a local Polka television show. By age twelve, he had joined his dad’s band, “The Polka Dots”, performing throughout the Midwest.
Upon graduation from Duluth Cathedral High School in 1964, Bill accepted an academic scholarship to St. John’s University of Collegeville, Minnesota. While at St. John’s, Bill played trumpet in the marching and concert bands. In addition, he earned extra income by playing in a ‘Big Band’. During the summers, Bill continued to play with the Polka Dots. He recorded his first long play album with his dad and brother entitled, ‘Twin Concertinas’, in 1965.
In the summer of 1967, Bill moved to Minneapolis to start Electrical Engineering School at the University of Minnesota. At that time, he joined Joe Tomaszewski’s Northeasterners polka band, teaming with Tom Mrozinski on trumpet. While with the Northeasterners, Bill recorded several albums. These recordings featured numerous original tunes and arrangements by Bill. Among these was ‘Polka Soul’ polka. In 1971, Bill once again teamed up with his brother-in-law, the late Tom Mrozinski, as an original member of the famous ‘Mrozinski Brothers Aleatoric Ensemble’. Bill primarily played concertina with this group and continued to prolifically produce original tunes, including “Polka Forever,” “for Your Smile Polka,” “Soft Rain Waltz” and numerous others.
The Mrozinski Brothers Aleatoric Ensemble established itself as one of the most innovative and popular Polka bands in the nation during the 70’s. They traveled throughout the U.S., performed at many polka fests and recorded several successful record albums. Bill wrote the lead tune for the Mrozinski Brothers first album, called “Here We Are.” The second Mrozinski Brothers album, called “Concertina Concert” was produced by Bill Czerniak in 1973. It featured original tunes, such as, “Macaroni Polka” and “Hoedown Polka,” performed on Concertina, Piano, Bass and Drums. The clean, crisp, style of this recording was well accepted, especially by Polka dance instructors, dance students, and Concertina enthusiasts. Bill also performed on the third Mrozinski LP, entitled “Music.”
At the urging of Tom Mrozinski, Bill and his wife Mary Lou formed their own band, “Polka Soul,” in 1974. This gave Bill more opportunity to express his unique concertina style, and develop his creative talents. The band consisted of concertina, two trumpets, piano, sax, and drums. Right from the start “Polka Soul” was in high demand for major polka festivals in the Minnesota area. Because of their unique style, “Polka Soul” was soon in high demand at national festivals. They appeared at the IPA. Conventions, Pillar Polkabration, USPA Festivals, Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D., Frankenmuth (MI) Polka Fest, Gibbon Polka Fest, Bel Aire Days, Polka Fireworks in Seven Springs, Pa., Erie, Pa. Polka Days, and many more. Their travels brought them to many “hot-spots” of Polish polka music, including Dover, NJ, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Maple City, Michigan, Lorain, Ohio, Sturbridge, Massachusetts, Chicago, New London, Connecticut, Detroit, and of course, all over the upper Midwest.
As time went on, Bill Czerniak literally wrote hundreds of arrangements and composed and published, dozens of Polka and Waltz tunes. He recorded and produced five LP recordings with “Polka Soul.” He performed on other recordings as well, including “Concertina Hall of Fame” by Joe Czerniak’s Polka Dots. Other prominent Polka Bands, including Lenny Gomulka and Chicago Push and the Dynatones have recorded songs written by Bill Czerniak. Though the instrumentation and musicians changed over time, “Polka Soul” always featured the unique, intricate, Concertina style of Bill Czerniak.
In 1986, Bill and Mary Lou formed the Bill Czerniak Concertina Band. This group features two concertinas, piano, and drums. It emphasizes Bill’s unique playing style. In 1989, Bill formed Polka Soul Records and the group recorded the highly successful “Mr. Concertina” LP.
Bill Czerniak sponsored numerous Polka excursions, including Polka cruises to the Caribbean and Mexico. His band has performed in Hawaii, sponsoring group trips there. Bus trips to Polka weekends were on the agenda, as well. In addition, Bill promoted numerous Polka events in Minnesota, including several benefit dances for the IPA.
Bill was frequently recognized by the Minnesota Ballroom Operators Association and National Polka media. He was selected ‘Concertina Player of the Year’ by the Minnesota Music Academy in 1988, and by the United Polka Association International in 1989. Throughout his long polka career, Bill Czerniak remained active in the promotion and promulgation of polkas. He was a charter member of the Polka Lovers Klub of America, and was a member of the United Polka Association International, and United States Polka Association. Bill became a Director of the International Polka Association (IPA) since 1978.
In summary, Bill Czerniak distinguished himself in many aspects of the polka industry, as a performer, music composer, music arranger, bandleader, promoter, innovator, tour leader, IPA. Director, and record producer. He worked for Northern States Power Co. as an Electrical Engineer, since 1969. Bill and Mary Lou lived in Shoreview, Minnesota. They had three children, Jill, Katie and Daniel.
Regretfully, Bill has passed away.