Ellsworth “Babe” Wagner – Pioneer Category – Inducted 2020

Portfolio Categories: 2020 and W.

Ellsworth Wagner, nicknamed “Babe” in his early youth, was a native of New Ulm, Minnesota, the “Polka Capital of the Nation.” He was born in Essig, Minnesota, on June 1, 1914. During his short life, music was his thing. His musical training began almost on the day he was born. His parents were accomplished musicians, and his maternal grandfather, who played the violin, assisted in giving him music lessons. Babe learned the piano, violin, saxophone, trombone, and drums. Trombone became his instrument of choice, and by the age of 10, he was an accomplished musician.

At the age of 17, Babe was playing with the Whoopee John Band. While playing at the Marigold Ballroom in Minneapolis, Gene Krupa heard him and asked him to join the Gene Krupa Band, which he did in 1939. He toured nationwide and was part of several movies. In 1944, he returned to New Ulm to await his call to the service. He served a short stint in the Army and was honorably discharged. In 1946, Babe organized his own orchestra and recorded with Columbia Records. The orchestra became famous for its ‘old-time’ music even though Babe was equally proficient as a jazz player.

Babe was born on June 1, 1914, and died on September 16, 1949, at the young age of 35. He was survived by his wife, Florence, and daughter, Karen.

Awards, Accomplishments, Achievements

In 1992, Babe was inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame.

Contributions towards Preserving and Advancing the Polka Music Industry

Although his life was short, Babe made an impact on Dutchmen-style polka music. The music he produced was top-notch and innovative for that era. He made the trombone recognized as a lead instrument in polkas.