IPA Hall of Fame Categories


IPA Hall of Fame Biography

Rich was born and raised in Norwich, Connecticut, and fell in love with the accordion after attending numerous Polish functions with his parents, Walter and Sylvia Bernier.  At the age of nine, he started taking private lessons on the accordion.  Rich remarks that during his seventeen years of instruction, his teacher had to give him a polka or oberek to keep up his interest along with the lessons he was given.  Since then, Rich and his instrument shared a musical career together that took them from a small New England town to performances at venues throughout the United States.  His early training on the accordion, coupled with his fascination with polka music, gave him the drive and inspiration to someday perform among the best of the best in his genre.

Rich’s professional career began at the age of thirteen when he was asked to play in a local band that did standard music.  The following year, Rich took over the band and changed its focus to Polish music.  Rich started making arrangements for the band’s instrumentation, which consisted of trumpet, saxophone, drums, and accordion.  Since the band was young and not old enough to drive, their fathers brought the band to rehearsals and performances.  In order to expand his grasp of polka music, Rich would also attend functions and performances by other bands to hear different styles and arrangements of polka music.  Rich’s band was called The Aces, but while attending a dance featuring Bob Uguccioni and the Happy Travelers, the leader suggested Rich alter the band’s name to the Jolly Aces, which he did.

In 1970, Rich was approached by Polka Hall of Famer Dick Pillar, who asked if he would be interested in joining his band.  The Pillar Polkabration Band was the first nationally known band that Rich would perform in.  During his first tenure with the Pillar band, Rich composed some songs, including the “Pretty Girl Polka”, which would be recorded on the Polkabration Tour album.  Rich would do two stints with the Polkabration band, from 1970 to 1973 and then from 1974 to 1976.

Rich’s interest in having his own band returned when in 1976, he formed the Sounds of Chicago polka band.  He arranged music, did the bookings of performances, and managed the group consisting of trumpet, clarinet, saxophone, bass, drums, and accordion.

Rich was also a major performer with the New Brass polka band, working with that group for a year in 1973 and then returning in 1978 to 1983.  Rich recorded two albums with the New Brass band, which included his iconic “Overnight Polka.”

In 1983, Rich’s professional career skyrocketed when he joined the legendary Happy Louie and Julcia polka band. His tenure with Happy Louie lasted approximately ten years and included four polka albums, one of which, “Your Polka Sweethearts,” was nominated for a Grammy Award by the Recording Academy and a DVD of live performances.

Upon leaving the Happy Louie band, Rich felt it was important to take some time off for personal interests and family, but he continued practicing on his chosen instrument to keep up his technique and learn new styles of polka music.  In time, Rich would perform with the Polka Country Musicians, the Joe Pasieka Orchestra, and the Eddie Skinger band, with whom he recorded two albums.

Since 2001, Rich has become a major part of the Maestro’s Men polka band, and has been featured on nine record albums, one of which, “Strike up the Band”, was nominated for a Grammy Award by the Recording Academy.  Rich, along with this group, would also perform to a sellout audience at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, CT.

Rich’s career has also allowed him to freelance at various times with bands and artists such as the Rich Bobinski Orchestra, the Swinging Brass, the Bay State IV, Polka Family, the Classix Reunion, the Beer Hall Boys, Bob Uguccioni and the Happy Travelers, Lenny Gomulka and Chicago Push, the New Brass Reunion, Myron Floren, Accordion A-Go-Go, Stas Golonka and the Chicago Masters, the Mass Brass and “America’s Polka Sweetheart”, Stephanie Pietrzak.

In 2016, Rich was honored and privileged to be included in the motion picture, “The Polka King,” starring Jack Black.  In the movie, Rich was part of the on-camera polka orchestra featured in several scenes.  The movie was released by Netflix in 2018.

Rich has contributed his time and talents to many charitable organizations and causes, including the Lisa Marie Biskup Gift of Life Foundation of Wyandotte, MI, and the Covenant Soup Kitchen of Willimantic, CT.  He has been a member of the Polish American Carolers of Western Massachusetts, performing at locations including the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, many local churches, nursing homes, and Alzheimer’s facilities.  Rich has been included in music clinics and discussions at venues such as the Lowell Folklife Festival in Lowell, Massachusetts, sponsored by the Smithsonian Institute, concerning accordion performance and educating the public about Polish heritage.

September 1, 2018, was a very special day for Rich when he was honored with the Leon Kozicki Award from the International Polka Association of Chicago, citing his 50 years of contributing to the success of several polka bands and to the advancement of polka music.


Dick Pillar & The Polkabration Band

  • “Polkabration Tour”  1973

  • “No Problem”

  • “Go For It”

New Brass

  • “Solid Brass”  1980

  • “Brass Magic  1982

Happy Louie and Julcia Polka Band

  • “Polkarisma”  1986

  • “Super Duper Polkas  1988

  • “Awesome Polkas  1991

  • “Your Polka Sweethearts”  1994

Eddie Skinger Orchestra

  • “From Me to You”  1987

  • “Just Fiddlin’”  1993

Dennis Polisky & The Maestro’s Men

  • “Music Maestros Please”  2001

  • “Strike Up The Band”  2002

  • “Polkas For the Christmas Season, Volume 2”  2002

  • “It’s All About The Music”  2004

  • “Polkas For the Christmas Season, Volume 3”  2005

  • “Decade”  2006

  • “Don’t Stop The Music”  2009

  • “Enjoy The Little Things”  2012

  • “Decade Two”  2016

Awards, Contributions and High Profile Events

  • Filmed “The Polka King,” starring Jack Black in 2016, released in 2018 on Netflix

  • Polish American Carolers at the Holyoke Soldiers Home, several years

  • The Lisa Marie Biskup Gift of Life Foundation, several years

  • Polka Festivals

    •  Wildwood Polka Spree by the Sea, Wildwood, NJ

    • Polka Fireworks at Seven Springs, Champion, PA

    • Summer Music Festival, Frankenmuth, MI

    • Hunter Mountain Polka Festival, Hunter Mountain, NY

    • Dick Pillar Polkabration, Ocean Beach Park, New London, CT

    • Ocean Beach Park Polka Days, Ocean Beach Park, New London, CT

    • International Polka Association Polka Festival and Convention

    • United States Polka Association Polka Festival, Independence, OH

    • Kielbasa Festival, Chicopee, MA

    • Polkamotion by the Ocean, Rehoboth Beach, DE

  • “Polka” with Frank Knight, Television show on WGGB, Springfield, MA

  • “Let’s Polka” with Bill Flynn, Television show on WSKG, Binghamton, NY

  • “Pennsylvania Polka”  Television show on WVIA, Scranton, PA

  • Grammy Nomination, Best Polka Album, “Strike Up The Band” by Dennis Polisky & The Maestro’s Men, 2004

  • Lowell Folklife Festival, Lowell, MA, Clinics and Roundtable Discussions on accordion performance and Polish heritage

  • Member of the International Polka Association, United States Polka Association, and Midwestern Polka Association.

  • Music Director, conductor and Manager, Mitch Biskup New Brass Reunion performance