Biography for Florian Chmielewski
November 20, 2013
I would like to nominate one of the hardest working and most well-known individuals in the polka industry for the 2014 International Polka Association’s Polka Hall of Fame. His name is Florian Chmielewski, and next year he will be celebrating his 69th anniversary since he started playing the accordion at the age of 18. He will also be celebrating his 59th year of producing the Chmielewski Funtime Television Show. He has made more than a career of promoting and playing polka music which is unprecedented in Minnesota History. His children, grandchildren and great grandchildren represent the 4th, 5th and 6th generations of polka family music.
I would like to give you just a brief look at Florian’s life and career in promoting polka music regionally, nationally and around the world. Excerpts have been taken from the booklet entitled “Mixing Polkas with Politics” and you may refer to this booklet when referenced by a page number for a more detailed description. Also enclosed is a copy of the United Polka Boosters Magazine from Glastonbury, Connecticut which contains a copyrighted story about his life.
Even before Florian received his first accordion, he came from a family tradition of over 100 years. His Grandfather Frank who immigrated from Poland in 1883, played the fiddle and his father Tony, carried on the family music tradition playing concertina to the local town folks with his brothers. (see page 3)
Although Florian’s accomplishments are many, below- are just some of the highlights of his lifetime of promoting and playing polka music.
In 1945, life changed when Florian received his first accordion. After only three short months of practice~ he learned six songs and was able to book his first dance job playing a wedding dance for only thirteen dollars. (page 2)
In 1951, as he entered the Army Air Force, his determination and love for music secured him a spot on KENT radio in Shreveport, Louisiana playing opposite of Hank Williams for a half hour show every Saturday morning. (page 6)
In 1955, after returning home from the Air Force, Florian purchased his parents farm where he continued to farm and play dance jobs with his five brothers. Over a ten-year span, his band became a regular feature on KDAL radio’s Old Time Dancing Party and WKLK radio in Duluth and Cloquet, MN. His band was gaining so much popularity that they were asked to be a regular on the Polish TV Party on WDSM – TV, Channel 6 in Duluth. (page 10)
In 1968, Florian was the interim band director at Willow River High School and also gave accordion lessons in several nearby towns. (page 12)
In 1970, Florian and his family formed a syndicated television show seen on over 40 television stations across the upper Midwest and Canada. The program which was called Chmielewski Funtime and produced over 2,000 shows over 40 consecutive years. Below are just some of the television stations which televised the Chmielewski Funtime show along with International Satellite TV from Forthworth, Texas and numerous Canadian stations:
WDIO-Duluth, MN KDAL-Duluth, MN
KEYC-Mankato, MN KNMT-Walker, MN
KABY-Aberdeen, SD KUMV-Williston, ND
WEAU-Ean Claire, WI KAUS-Austin, TX
KCRG-Cedar Rapids, IA
Ch 6-Ventura, CA
KYUS-Miles City, MT KRSD-Rapid City,
SD IGXMC-Minot, ND KXMB-Bismmarck, ND
KNOP-North Platte, NE
WVTV-Milwaukee, WI & Chicago, IL
KSFY-Sioux Falls, SD
WOPC-Altoona & Harrisburg, PA
KTUX-Rock Springs, WY
WDAZ-Grand Forks, ND
In 1972, the Chmielewski Funtime program ranked second out of thirteen on the Nielsen Rating Service figures on KDAL-TV in Duluth. The program was outranked only by the comedy series “Mande”. In third place was Bunker’s “All in the Family” followed by “Gunsmoke” and NFL Sunday Night Football. (see page 23)
In 1973, as a member of the Minnesota State Senate, Florian was the chief author of Minnesota’s anti-piracy act which protected the recording rights of musicians nationwide. This made front page news for the National Billboard Publication. (see page 15)
In 1976, Florian was the founder of the Minnesota International Polkafest which is currently in its 36th year.
In 1979, Florian and his Family were selected by the Minneapolis Aquatennial Association for a cultural exchange mission where they made television shows in t he Islands and taught the Bahamian people how to polka. (see insert) They also hosted many tours and cruises in places like Mexico, Hawaii, Alaska, Caribbean Islands and Europe.
In 1980, The Chmielewski Band became h regular feature at the Minnesota State Fair for over 20 years (see pages 32 & 61) and also at the Norsk Hostefest in Minot, North Dakota where crowds of over 50,000 gathered from around the world.
From 1989-1991 the Chmielewski Funtime band swept nine out of eleven “Minnie” awards during the Minnesota Music Academy Awards including best Czech/German/Bohemian/and Polish Polka Group and were also voted Minnesota’s most popular band. (see pages 54 & 55)
Since 1990, Florian produced 45 television shows nationwide for Satellite TV which raised $15,000 and was donated to Ironworld USA. (see pages 59 & 60) He also raised and donated over $7,000 to the Helmi Harrington Accordion and Concertina Museum in Superior, Wisconsin.
In 1991, the Chmielewski Funtime Band was chosen with 12 other national bands to have a recording in the Library of Congress along with such notables as Frankie Yankovic, Walter Ostanek, ‘Lil Wally, Bobby Vinton, Jimmy Sturr and Dick Pillar. The pm-pose of this special recording was to promote polkas nationally with all sales going to charitable non-profit organizations. (see page 62)
- In 1994, Florian was inducted in the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in New Ulm,
- In 1995, Florian was inducted in the Ironworld Discovery Center Polka Hall of Fame in Chisholm, Minnesota.
- In 2006, he started Chmielewski Funtime Tours which brings polka fans to performances at various music venues throughout the United States.
- In 2012, he was the 15th recipient of the National Northeast Lifetime Accordion
Achievement Award from the Northeast Accordion Festival in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
- Presently, and since 1956, Florian wrote and recorded a song entitled “Donnie’s Polka” on a 45rpm. Since then, he has recorded over 40 records and CDs. (see insert)
It’s almost impossible to talk about all of the history that Florian Chmielewski brings with him to the polka world. From as far back as 1883, Florian is a legend of his own kind. This year alone, he received an Honorary Doctorate of Laws Degree from Fond du Lac Community College to honor his exceptional work in not only the Minnesota legislature, but for music as well. (see insert) I hope that you will share in my belief that my Grandpa would be an outstanding candidate for the 20t4 International Polka Association’s Polka Hall of Fame as he continues his promotion of polka music throughout his lifetime.
UWEC Engineering Student
15972 Havelock Ct.
Apple Valley, MN 55124