Thanksgiving, Cleveland 2011

Three polka bandleaders were inducted into the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame at the annual awards ceremony on November 26, 2011. Fred Kuhar of Wickliffe, Ohio, Bob Timko of Dunedin, Florida, and Hank Thunander, from St. Paul, Minnesota, were voted for their lifetime achievements in polka music by Hall of Fame members and trustees. The announcement was made announced at the October 13 semiannual membership meeting in Euclid, Ohio.


All three honorees are accordionists. Fred Kuhar has led an orchestra for more than forty years and served as the founding President of the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame and Museum. Bob Timko’s band was a top Cleveland-based polka group in the 1970s and one of the first to popularize polka tours to destinations such as Hawaii. Hank Thunander has been a leading figure on the Iron Range polka scene since the 1960s.   


Two all-time Cleveland-Style hits were also chosen by voters. "Save the Last Dance," a romantic waltz written by Lojze Slak of Slovenia as “Ne Prizigaj Luci,” has been a Cleveland-style standard since the 1980s when it was recorded by Cecilia Dolgan with her English lyric. “Terezinka,” a bouncy polka based on a traditional Slovenian folk song, has been recorded and played by countless orchestras since the 1920s.


The Board of Trustees added six names to the Polka Hall of Fame Honor Roll. Accordionist Linda Lee Brown performs at polka events in Frankenmuth, Michigan, and around the country. Drummer Gus Oswald has recorded on upwards of 700 songs, most notably with the Hank Haller Orchestra.  Drummer John R. Gerl plays and records with several bands and served as the founding treasurer of the Polka Hall of Fame. Vocalist Angela Zabjek recorded and performed Slovenian music and is active in the Slovenian-American community. Bandleader and accordionist Ray Skovenski has recorded and performs in his home state of Pennsylvania. The late accordionist Al Strukel led a popular Cleveland polka band during the polka heyday of the 1950s. Mike Dragas, Ray Sterle and Bill Tomsick received group recognition for their thirty years together as members of the Art Perko Orchestra, one of the classic Cleveland-style polka ensembles.


The 24th annual National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame awards ceremony took place on Saturday afternoon, November 26, at Euclid Auditorium, 711 East 222nd Street, in Euclid, Ohio. This year's all-star program featured a salute to radio personality and impresario Tony Petkovsek for his fifty years hosting a daily polka broadcast. A reception, polka mass and dance followed at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Cleveland. The awards show is the high point of the annual Thanksgiving polka music weekend hosted by Petkovsek. At the membership meeting, President Cecilia Dolgan announced that the Polka Hall of Fame would be taking over sponsorship of the Thanksgiving polka festival in 2012, following Petkovsek’s retirement.


The Polka Hall of Fame and Museum was founded in 1987 by musicians and leaders of Slovenian and ethnic organizations. The Cleveland style of polka has roots in Slovenian folk music with influences from country and western, jazz, Tin Pan Alley and other nationality sounds. America's Polka King, Frank Yankovic, was the leading exponent of the popular dance music.


The museum features audio exhibits, photographs and original instruments tracing the Cleveland-style polka to its origins in Slovenia in the late 1800s. The Hall of Fame portrait gallery pays tribute to significant musicians and prominent individuals, as voted each year by 1,500 members. The archive preserves 5,000 recordings, dating to 1917. Each year members nominate and vote for polka musicians and achievers in categories ranging from best orchestra and best album to promotion and Slovenian cultural heritage.


The National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame and Museum is located at 605 East 222nd Street in Euclid, Ohio, in the historic former Euclid City Hall. Hours are Tuesday through Friday, noon to 5:00, and Saturdays, 10:00 to 3:00. Admission is free. Polka recordings are available in the museum store.  


Joe Valencic, Trustee



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Bandleaders Fred Kuhar, Bob Timko and Hank Thunander inducted into the Polka Hall of Fame


Article by Joe Valencic, National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame, November, 2011