It is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of 2003 IPA Hall of Fame Inductee, Hank Haller.
Our deepest condolences and sympathies to the Haller family and all of Hank’s Friends and Fans.
Everyone remembers Hank Haller for his oom-pah music and lederhosen. But Hank was a lot more. He was a prolific recording artist in the polka field with 100 albums to his credit, with an estimated quarter of a million albums sold.
While he loved German-style polkas, Hank was a big fan of the Oberkrainer music of Slavko and Vilko Avsenik of Slovenia, and Cleveland-style polkas. He recorded many albums with Slovenian and English lyrics sung to these polkas and waltzes.
His parents, Henry and Katherine, emigrated a century ago to Cleveland from a German settlement in the former Yugoslavia. Haller started on the piano accordion at age eight, but his teacher doubted his talent, so he switched to clarinet. He picked up the accordion again at age 16 and joined his uncle Jake Haller’s band in 1952. Within five years, Hank became the leader, and the Hank Haller band had a non-stop run for 65 years.
Hank played on a regular basis for his friend Steve Bencic, at Cleveland’s Sachsenheim Club, in 1958. A few years later the club was restyled as the Hofbrau Haus restaurant with Hank leading the house band. The Hank Haller Orchestra helped introduce the Oktoberfest German beer festival with Bencic. Oktoberfest celebrations were the perfect showcase for Haller and his band. The events were an important part of his hundred-or-more play-dates each year.
Among his musical career highlights, Hank lists his 15 years, at the Bavarian Festival in Barnesville, Pennsylvania. He recalled the first time he attended, it was the biggest dance he had ever seen. He quickly became accustomed to playing for the 100,000+ people each year.
Another highlight for Hank was the nomination of his album “Thank You Dear and Give Her Roses,” for a Grammy award in the polka category in 1987.
For 30 years, he was joined on stage by his wife Maryanne as vocalist. Hank sings on many of his recordings, along with Ray Young and Ken Umeck. As an indefatigable traveler, Hank invited fans and friends to his countless polka cruises and tours to Europe and Hawaii.
Television gave Hank and his Lustigen Schwaben the opportunity to reach thousands of music-lovers. The group made more than 200 appearances on “Polka Varieties,” during its 27 years on the air. The program was recorded in Cleveland and syndicated to 15 cities. Between engagements, Hank also found time to host a German radio show.
Like many musicians, Haller had a day job. He earned a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from Case Western Reserve University. He worked at NASA for 20 years, and 15 years for the U.S. Department of Defense.
Hank enjoyed the polka music of other nationalities and expanded his repertoire with Bohemian, Slovak, and Austrian tunes. And he played them well. As Hank always said, “Authenticity is paramount.”
A memorial service for Hank Haller will be this Friday, Dec. 2, from 2 – 4 PM at Jardine’s Funeral Home, 15822 Pearl Rd. Strongsville, Ohio. 44136.