Euclid Music Legends Johnny Pecon and Frank Yankovic Honored at Polka Music Awards
The the late Euclid bandleaders Johnny Pecon and Frank Yankovic, America’s Polka King, who both would have been 100 this year, were honored at the 52nd Thanksgiving Polka Party Weekend, staged at the Downtown Cleveland Marriott Hotel by the Euclid-based National Cleveland-Style Polka Hal of Fame and Museum, and the 28th annual polka music awards ceremony on Saturday, November 28, 2015. The awards show theme, “A Century of Cleveland-Style Polka,” saluted the Slovenian and American influences on the music, especially by Yankovic and Pecon, and Slovenia’s late polka powerhouse Slavko Avsenik. Pecon’s sons John and Jeff and Yankovic’s son Bob performed in honor of their fathers.
Featured entertainer was Denis Novato, World Diatonic Accordion Champion, who arrived from Europe for the occasion. Several Polka Hall of Fame honorees appeared on stage, including Canada's Polka King, Walter Ostanek, Joey Miskulin of TV’s Riders in the Sky, past President Fred Kuhar, and Dusan “Duke” Marsic, who was recognized by polka radio host Tony Petkovsek for his 90th birthday. Three Polka Hall of Famers celebrated 80th birthdays, Hank Haller, Del Sinchak and Walter Ostanek.
The Frank Stanger Orchestra enjoyed a three-peat win as Band of the Year. Frank Stanger, a native of Doylestown, OH, also collected trophies for Musician, Album and Song of the Year, as did bandmates Paul Yeager and Joe Zdelar for Side Musicians. The late Cleveland musician and radio host Eddie Bucar and the late drummer Dave Wolnik were inducted for their lifetime achievements in polka music.
The two All-Time Hits were played by local bands Patty C and the Guys (Lojze Slak’s “V Dolini Tihi (Quiet Valley)”) and the Veseli Godci (Merry Music-Makers) (Avsenik’s “Na Golici (Trumpet Echo Polka)”). Featured performers included Jeff Winard (WI), Denny Anderson (WI) and the Alpine Sextet (OH). The Awards Show orchestra, led by Tom Mroczka, included the show’s youngest musician, accordionjist Joshua Kay, age 15. Master of ceremonies were WINT radio hosts Ray Somich, Ray Zalokar and Denny Bucar. The show was directed by Brandon Bucar and produced and written by Joe Valencic, President of the Polka Hall of Fame. The polka weekend was organized by Vice President Mark Habat, a Euclid resident. Each guest received a 64-page souvenir program book.
The Thanksgiving Polka Party Weekend brought polka entertainers and busloads of fans from the U.S. and Canada for the three-day polka event. More than 700 room-nights were booked at the Marriott. Performers included orchestras led by Dick Tady (PA), Ed Klancnik (MI), Linda Lee Brown (MI), Mikey Dee (PA), Fritz Scherz (NY), Brian Sklar (SK). Frank Stanger joined Ohioans Frank Moravcik, Del Sinchak, Eddie Rodick, Anthony Culkar, Dan Peters, the Button Box Divas, Patty C and the Guys, Aaron Dussing, Ron Likovic, Frank Svet, Joshua Kay, and the Fairport Jammers.
Forty-two musicians appeared on the main stage in the traditional jam session on Friday evening. A high point was the Polka Mass, celebrated by Fr. Frank Perkovich of Minnesota, Cleveland’s Joey Tomsick Orchestra, and vocalist Cecilia Dolgan, a Hall of Famer and past President. Impromptu polka jam sessions extended into the wee hours.
"I heard about this polka festival in Las Vegas and I knew I had to come,” said Peter Geres from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. “The music is first rate. I enjoy it so much I’m coming back next year.”
"It’s all about camaraderie,” added Euclid resident Mark Habat, Vice President of the Polka Hall of Fame and Chairman of the Thanksgiving weekend music festival. “Great music brings out the best in people.”
Other winners were Kathy Hlad for Button Accordionist; Patty C and the Guys for Button Accordion Ensemble; Al Bambic for Side Musician; the SNPJ Recreation Grounds in Kirtland, OH, for Culture and Heritage; and Ray Zalokar’s 247PolkaHeaven, the on-line polka channel, for Support and Promotion. Christine Hibbs, the Vocalist of the Year, was featured on the New Song of the Year, “Happy Birthday, Baby,” written by Frank Stanger and performed by his orchestra.
Six entertainers were added to the Polka Hall of Fame Trustees Honor Roll: accordionists and bandleaders Milan Racanovic (a Euclid resident), Marty Sintic, Eddie Liszewski, and Johnny Pastirik; saxophonist Joe Samsa and radio personality Patty Sluga.
Musicians and leaders of Slovenian and nationality organizations founded the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame in Euclid in 1987. Museum exhibits trace the story of Cleveland's home-grown dance music from its roots in the city’s Slovenian neighborhoods to nationwide popularity. Historic instruments include an accordion belonging to Frank Yankovic. The archive preserves 6,500 vintage recordings, some dating back a century
The Polka Hall of Fame and Museum is located at 605 East 222nd Street in Euclid, Ohio, in the historic former Euclid City Hall. Admission is free. Polka and Slovenian CDs are on sale on-line and in the museum store. Open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, 11:00 to 4:00. For more information, call (216) 261-FAME, toll-free (866) 66-POLKA, or check Facebook or the website, www.polkafame.com.
Joseph Valencic is President of the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame and Museum in the historic, old Euclid City Hall on East 222nd Street.