Donald Lee Cialkoszewski was born to John and Frances Cialkoszewski of Polish, Russian and German ancestry in Trilby, Ohio, a suburb of Toledo. Don’s entire family was musically inclined, and at age seven, he asked his parents for a red accordion for his birthday. He began formal accordion instruction at the Faust White Music Company and at eight years of age, he gave his first paid performance at a Christmas party.
In the 1950’s, Don was already a featured solo accordionist, appearing regularly on the “Kiddy Carnival Show” on WSPD Radio in Toledo. In 1957 at the age of 11, Don was the first place winner of WTOD’s Talent Contest, hosted by Chet Zablocki, with his accordion rendition of “Clarinet Polka.” Also in 1957, Don was asked to perform on Lawrence Welk’s Top Tunes and New Talent Show.
Throughout high school, Don studied and performed on the French horn, clarinet, guitar, and glockenspiel for the Central Catholic High School Marching Band and with the University of Toledo Marching Band and Symphonic Ensemble. At the age of 15, he won State, National and International Classical Accordian contests. He was the first accordionist to perform with the Toledo Concert Band and the first accordionist to be accepted into the Toledo Symphony Orchestra.
In 1968, Don opened “Lee’s Music” which he owned and operated until 1973. He personally taught two hundred students on the guitar, accordion, clarinet, trumpet and drums. Many of his students went on to develop their own Polka bands: Toledo Polkamotion’s Mike Tilinski, and Crusade’s Eddie Biegej and Randy Krajewski. Don’s music store business and radio show served as a launch pad for Polka talent, including his own, and by 1971 his original compositions were being recorded. “I’m a Polish Kid and Proud of It” was the featured tune on Don’s first recording and soon Don’s audiences were referring to him as the “The Polish Kid.” The recording was a hit and he quickly capitalized on the new moniker. Many more original recordings were to follow. A Polish Kid Fan Club was founded in Michigan with nationwide membership.
In 1972, Johnny Sandrack was the first DJ to present Don’s debut album over WMZK Radio in Detroit, Michigan. The listening audience responded enthusiastically and flooded the station with requests for “I’m a Polish Kid Polka.” It launched The Polish Kid Fan Club whose members proudly wore green and gold vests and traveled hundreds of miles to hear the unforgettable musical talent of Don Cialkoszewski. Throughout the years, Don’s music been recorded by many bands and he has performed with Michigan notables including Marv Herzog, Big Daddy Lackowski, Harold Mitas, Linda Lee Brown, Karen Stroiwas, and Johnny Sandrack.
Don’s innovative technique and original tunes ignited a button box craze in the mid-seventies. Intrigued with the instrument, Don had learned to play the button accordion and filled the button box scene with new music. Don is proud to have received the 1989 Summer Music Fest Award in Frankenmuth, Michigan, and to have two button box recordings in the Smithsonian Institute.
Don has enhanced the image of Polka music with his professionalism as a musican and has broadened the Polka audience with his unique style and sound. He has appeared at every major polka festival across the United States including Bel-Aire Polka Days in Chicago, Frankenmuth Summer Music Fest, Ocean Beach Polkabration, and at polka events in Mesa, California and Denver, Colorado with Frankie Yankovic. Don has tirelessly promoted Polish, Czech, Bavarian and German style music throughout his musical career. He has fostered polka dancing by providing the music for MaryLou Kaye’s Down River Polka Time cable television show with fifty one-hour shows per year over a 5-year period. Don’s also performed the music on MaryLou Kaye’s polka dancing instructional video which was distributed to every library in the country.
This classically trained artist has written or composed hundreds of tunes including I’m a Polish Kid Polka, You and Me Polka, Barn Dance, Hot Dog Polka, Kick It Out, and Bubbles, to name a few. Don plays music one can have fun with, from classical to pop, swing, and Polka tunes. The opening strains of his signature “Chicagoland Twirl” signals party goers that they are about to experience an unforgettable musical event.
The Polish Kid’s many recordings are a testament to his musical talent and creativity. His versatility in playing many instruments is shown in his release called “Button Box Wiz Kid.” This instrumental of Don’s original hit tunes and most requested favorites has 40 minutes of music with the inimitable Polish Kid touch as he plays all of the instruments and does all of the vocals in harmony.
The Polish Kid draws a crowd around the stage as he flashes his big smile and switches to his button box to play some of his original music such as the Button Box Rag, Oy Dy Dee Shuffle, Tyrolean Summer Waltz, or the lilting unforgettable Gypsy Polka. “The Polish Kid” is not just a passing fancy—rather an episode in the life of an artist who continues to create new horizons. Now in his 64th year as a composer and performer, and thanks to satellite radio and the internet, Don’s music is enjoyed worldwide.
After losing his wife and band drummer Lorraine in 2019, Don is now semi-retired and lives in Mt. Washington, Kentucky, close to his son and grandchildren. Another son and two daughters live in Florida and Michigan.
Don Lee “The Polish Kid” Cialkoszewski’s contribution to the polka industry is well documented and established. He has shared his incredible musical talent by composing and performing for thousands of Polka fans for many years and certainly deserves to be inducted into the International Polka Association Polka Hall of Fame.