Lil John Nalevanko – Pioneer Category – Inducted 2023

Documenting the history or polkas in Western Pennsylvania would not be complete without discussing John Nalevanko. Affectionately known as Li’l John, he has been a driving force in promoting Polka music in the area. As a musician, John first started playing drums in local bands when he was 12.   He played in various bands like the Polka Stars, Avant Gard, Starlighters, and the Jr. Simms Band.   However, his true breakout was when he started playing…

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Anthony W. Zebrowski – Pioneer Category – Inducted 2022

Anthony W. Zebrowski was born June 12, 1925 in Bayonne, NJ. When he was 2 he and his family returned to their homeland, Białystok Poland. He lived there for the next 20 years. On April 1, 1945 Anthony and Zofia (Zosia) were married. In 1947 Anthony boarded a ship bound for the USA. He left behind his first child Sophie and his wife Zosia, who unknown to them at the time, was pregnant with their…

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Stan Wolowic – Pioneer Category – Inducted 2022

Stan Wolowic was a renowned accordionist and band leader and teacher for over 65 years. He and his band produced numerous albums promoting Polkas and Polish and ethnic music over his decades-long career. I have included numerous items herein, including copies of the fronts and backs of covers of 5 of his most popular albums with Capitol Records and ABC Paramount. The backs of the albums tell the story of his musical prowess during those…

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Dr. William Lausche – Pioneer Category – Inducted 2021

A dentist by profession, Dr. Lausche was active for nearly sixty years in the music field. Dr. Lausche was a brilliant composer and arranger; played the piano proficiently; produced and directed recordings on national labels; taught and rehearsed some of the most famous Cleveland style polka artists; coached singing groups; and was active outside of purely ethnic circles in Cleveland’s cultural community. An accomplished musician, Doc Lausche enthusiastically embraced a wide range of musical genres.…

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Ellsworth “Babe” Wagner – Pioneer Category – Inducted 2020

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,…

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Stephen “Big Steve” Krzeminski – Pioneer Category – Inducted 2019

Born on June 5, 1945, in Buffalo, New York, Stephen w. Krzeminski was destined to make his mark in polka music.  Standing tall at 6 feet, 3 inches by the time he was 16 years of age, the charismatic accordionist first led Big Steve’s Orchestra and later Big Steve and the Bellares until 1995.  For over three-and-a-half decades, steve toured throughout the U.S. northeast and midwest and performed in Hawaii, Canada, and the Caribbean.  His…

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John “Stanky” Stankovic – Pioneer Category – Inducted 2019

John “Stanky” Stankovic was born into a family of coal miners and musicians in Nanticoke, Pa, in 1936.  He discovered the accordion as a young child and was performing at house weddings by the age of nine. Even though John’s first polka band was called the Tip Toppers, town folks referred to the group as Stanky and the Coal Miners since most of his musicians came directly from the coal mines on their way to…

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Joe Macielag – Pioneer Category – Inducted 2018

Joseph Macielag began his musical career with clarinet lessons at the age of 14. Two years later, he was invited to join the Rydzewski Brothers Trio from Niagara Falls, NY. Influenced by Frank Wojnarowski, Joseph organized a nine-piece orchestra that played its first gig when he was only 18. By the age of 21, he was on the road with his band backing up the famed vocalist, Marisha Data. Later, Joseph’s Pic-a-Polka Orchestra teamed up…

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Edward Kutas Sr. – Pioneer Category – Inducted 2017

  Edward Chester Kutas Sr. was a well-known and important promoter of polka music in Buffalo and Western New York.  He was the owner and operator of the historic Warsaw Inn on Broadway in the heart of the Polish East Side.  For many years, Ed had a vision for a polka convention to be conducted in Buffalo and urged his friend Johnny Hyzny of Chicago to bring his International Polka Convention to the Nickel City. …

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Richard Midura – Pioneer Category – Inducted 2016

Richard Midura was born on August 12, 1935, in Chicopee, Ma. Known as “the pioneer of polka clarinet improvisation” by his peers, he lent his smooth clarinet and saxophone mastery to the live performances and recordings of the most prominent eastern style polka bands of his day. Richard’s unique playing style influenced generations of polka clarinetists. Over his career, he toured with Ed Swierand’s Aristocrats, Al Soyka, and Gene Wisniewski, and performed and recorded with…

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Florian Chmielewski – Pioneer Category – Inducted 2015

  Florian Chmielewski is the product of a family that has been synonymous with polka music for six generations. One of 15 children, he was born in Sturgeon Lake, MN on February 10, 1927. As he progressed from a dairy farmer, to County Commissioner, to Minnesota State Senator, Flo-rian always maintained his love for the accordi-on. At age 18, he received his first accordion in 1945 and began to lead a band. Florian’s children later…

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Alfred Vrazel – Pioneer Category – Inducted 2014

  Alfred Vrazel was born to parents of Moravian descent on September 6, 1940 on their family farm near Cameron, Texas.  His interest in music started early in life.  At the age of 10 he persuaded his parents into buying him a 2-row Hohner button accordion.  Three years later and after a lot of practice, Alfred, along with his brother Anton, and their three cousins, started a band they named “Vrazels’ Playboys” later becoming, as…

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Tony Petkovsek – Pioneer Category – Inducted 2013

  Tony Petkovsek was born August 21, 1941, in Cleveland, Ohio to parents of Slovenian descent. At age 20 he began what would become the longest running daily two hour polka program, self-produced with his own sponsors. That daily show aired six days a week from 1961 through 2011 and it now continues weekly every Saturday for three hours from noon to 3:00 p.m. Co-hosts currently include Joey Tomsick, Joe Valencia (bilingual also in Slovenian),…

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Tom “Tommy” Altenburg – Pioneer Category – Inducted August 2012

  Tommy was born and raised on the north side of Chicago near Humboldt Park.  He attended Bernard Moos Grade School and Lane Technical High School.  Shortly after graduating from high school, he served an apprenticeship in the lithography trade, became a journeyman and spent most of his adult life employed in that field.   Tommy’s love for polka music developed and nurtured while still in grade school listening to polka artists and DJs, namely…

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Don Peachey – Pioneer Category – 2011

    Don Peachey hails from Burnett, Wisconsin, a small town located an hour from Milwaukee. He began playing the accordion at the age of 14. Don made his first paying performance at the civic center in Fairwater, Wisconsin. Except for two years in the U.S. Army, he has been keeping dancers happy with his music ever since. Don was elected bandleader of the year by the Wisconsin Orchestra Leaders Association in 1973 and was…

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Ted Okrzesik – Pioneer Category – Inducted 2010

  Ted (Thaddeus) Okrzesik was born in Chicago on July 29, 1937, to Joseph Okrzesik and Emily Scieszka Okrzesik. Ted’s dad played the violin and both of his parents enjoyed polka music. His mother said Ted spoke fluent Polish in his early years. Ted was the youngest of three boys. His brothers were Joe and Bob, who also entertained in the polka field. He attended St. Pancratious grammar school and Holy Trinity High School, where…

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Teresa Zapolska – Pioneer Category – Inducted 2008

    Teresa Zapolska grew up in Jamaica, New York. During her early years in school, she was taught the piano by the nuns and played for all of the Polish shows held at the school. On the request of her mother, she also began singing and accordion lessons.   At an early age, her polka career began with the Bernie Witkowski Orchestra for the grand opening of Polkas on Broadway at the Arcadia Ballroom,…

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John Demerski – Pioneer Category – Inducted 2007

  *Deceased in 2015* John Demerski is a life-long resident of Forestville, Connecticut. He attended Butler University, the University of Hartford, Central Connecticut State University and has a degree in Industrial Management.   John served in the U.S. Army Infantry and in the Connecticut Army National Guard. He was believed to be the youngest Infantryman to ever attain the rank of Master Sergeant at the time of his honorable discharge.   John entered the field…

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Adam Barthalt – Pioneer Category – Inducted 2006

    Adam Barthalt was born in Ridgewood, Queens, NY on June 11, 1935. Adams’s deep-rooted interest in music began unpretentiously at the age of three with a toy accordion he received from his grandparents while on a visit with his mother to Europe.   By the time Adam was seven, he had graduated to the “real thing” and began his formal musical education. At the age of twelve he earned his first pay, which…

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Lou Trebar – Pioneer Category – Inducted 2004

    Lou Trebar authored one of the Cleveland-Style Polka’s most impressive careers. A true dean of Cleveland­-Style music, Lou’s credits included over sixty quality years of professional performances beginning at age 13; over forty years as a composer/arranger and adapter of Cleveland-Style music; leading his own orchestras from 1936-1950; co-owning the Metropole Cafe, Cleveland’s first significant Polka establishment; twenty-five years as the co-leader, featured accordionist, and business manager of the Johnny Pecon-Lou Trebar Orchestra;…

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