Frank John “Frankie” Yankovic (July 28, 1915 in Davis, West Virginia – October 14, 1998 in New Port Richey, Florida) was a Grammy Award-winning polka musician. Known as “America’s Polka King,” Yankovic was considered the premier artist to play in the Slovenian style during his long career.
Born to Slovene immigrant parents, Yankovic was raised in South Euclid, Ohio. He released over 200 recordings in his career. In 1986 he was awarded the first ever Grammy in the Best Polka Recording category. He rarely strayed from the Slovenian-style polka, but did record with country guitarist Chet Atkins and pop singer Don Everly. He also recorded a version of the “Too Fat Polka” with comedian Drew Carey.
Yankovic’s father, a blacksmith, and his mother, a cook, met in a lumber camp in West Virginia where they both worked. When Yankovic was young, his father moved to Cleveland to escape authorities who learned of his bootlegging, and the rest of the family followed shortly thereafter. While living in Cleveland, he became enthralled by the brass bands that played at Slovenian social functions. His mother took on boarders to help with the family finances, including a man named Max Zelodec who performed Slovenian tunes on a button box. Yankovic acquired an accordion at age 9, and received a few lessons from Zelodec. By the late 1920s, in his early teenage years, he was a working musician, playing for community events. In the 1930s, he formed a business relationship with Joe Trolli and began making radio appearances on stations such as WJAY and WGAR. As his reputation spread, he sought opportunities to make phonograph records, but the major labels turned him down. His first records were made for the Yankee and Joliet labels operated by Fred Wolf, and the expenses were paid for by Yankovic himself.
In 1940, he married his first wife June, and they began to raise a family. However, the expenses of family life quickly overcame the incoming money from his music career, so he opened a tavern, calling it the Yankovic Bar. It became a popular hangout for local musicians, and he continued to run it until he sold it in 1948, dedicating himself to the accordion.
Yankovic enlisted in the armed forces in 1943, and cut numerous records while on leave, prior to his departure for Europe. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge where a severe case of frostbite nearly required the amputation of his hands and feet. Fortunately, he was able to beat the gangrene before that became necessary, and was awarded a Purple Heart. The doctors urged him to have his fingers amputated, but he refused, as that would have ended his music career. After getting out of the hospital, he and four other musicians were assigned to special services to entertain the troops, including General George Patton and his Third United States Army.
Yankovic hit the national scene when he earned two platinum singles for “Just Because” (1947) and “Blue Skirt Waltz” (1949). Columbia Records initially refused to record “Just Because”, because other versions of the song had been around for years without much success; only allowing it when Yankovic said that he would buy the first 10,000 records. Yankovic obtained the title of America’s Polka King after beating Louis Bashell, Romy Gosz, Harold Loeffelmacher and the Six Fat Dutchmen, Whoopee John Wilfahrt, and Lawrence Duchow in a battle of the bands in Milwaukee at the Milwaukee Arena on June 9, 1948.
In 1970, a house fire destroyed the gold records for “Just Because” and “Blue Skirt Waltz”.
Yankovic also hosted the television series Polka Time for Buffalo, New York-based WKBW-TV for 26 weeks in 1962. He commuted from Cleveland to host each episode, which aired live. He also hosted a similar show at WGN-TV Chicago at about the same time. He won a Grammy Award in 1986 for his album 70 Years of Hits. He was the first winner in the Polka category. The NARAS (Grammy) organization dropped the category in 2008.
He has performed with musical comedian and fellow accordionist “Weird Al” Yankovic, although the two are not related. Al, who also performs polka music among many other styles, has jokingly hypothesized that he was given accordion lessons as a child because his parents thought that “there should be at least one more accordion-playing Yankovic in the world.” Al performed accordion on “Who Stole the Kishka?” on one of Frankie’s final records, Songs of the Polka King, Vol. 1. A portion of Frankie’s “The Tick Tock Polka” is included in the song “Polka Face” on Weird Al’s Alpocalypse; it was used as a lead-in for “Tik Tok” by Ke$ha.
Yankovic died on October 14, 1998 in New Port Richey, Florida, from heart failure, at the age of 83. He is buried in Cleveland’s Calvary Cemetery. Hundreds of friends, family, his loyal fans and fellow musicians attended his memorial service. At his peak, Yankovic traveled extensively and performed 325 shows a year. He sold 30 million records during his lifetime.
In Bob Dolgan’s 2006 biography of Yankovic, Frankie’s longtime drummer Dave Wolnik observed that Yankovic didn’t have a street named for him in his own hometown. This launched a campaign by the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame and Museum and City Councilman Michael Polensek, and in a ceremony on August 21, 2007, the square at the intersection of Waterloo Rd. and East 152nd St. in Cleveland (41.569°N 81.5752°W), not far from where Yankovic grew up, was named in his honor. (by wikipedia)
The recordings of this album hast a real strange history.
“Don Gabor also released most of these recordings on his later labels in 1956. The earliest I could find was on the Paris label:
#6 “Frank Yankovic and Other Polka Stars” (side B is Victor Zembruski)
The same recordings of the same songs were released on both the Masterseal and Paris labels:
Masterseal #5009 “Frank Yankovic’s Polka Party”
Palace #704 “Frank Yankovic’s Polka Party” (both have the same exact covers, and both have V. Zembruski on the flip).
So, enjoy this rare recordings of early Polka music from the USA and I will present more informations about The Victor Zembruski Orchestra next time.
The Victor Zembruski Orchestra
Frank Yankovic (accordeon, vocals)
a bunch of unknown studio musisicans
The Victor Zembruski Orchestra (on 08. – 15.)
Frank Yankovic :
01. Bye Bye Baby Polka 2.36
02. To-The-Left-To-The-Right Polka 2.51
03. Be Happy Polka 2.36
04. My Honey Polka 2.30
05. My Wife´s Chirping Voice 2.41
06. Golden Stars Polka 2.33
07. Cherry Polka 2.36
Victor Zembruski Orchestra:
08. It´s Raining Polka 2.39
09. Clarinet Polka 2.56
10. Good Time Pola 2.42
11. Piano Polka 2.40
12. Wedding Bell Polka 2.34
13. Guitar Polka 2.47
14. Dzuleida Polka 2.46
15. Domino Polka 2.41