Articles

No More Polka Grammy

Article - #1 By Kathy Flanigan of the Journal Sentinel (06, 2009)

 

 

 

Polka fans are used to being mocked and maligned, but now things have gone too far. The Recording Academy, which doles out the annual Grammy Awards, has announced it's eliminating the polka category after 24 years. And this, during National Accordion Awareness Month. In a statement to The New York Times, the academy said the decision was made "to ensure the awards process remains representative of the current musical landscape." Translation: No one listens to polka, and you're not relevant.

 

In Milwaukee, home to many polka potentates, the news took the oomph out of their oom-pah-pah.

"It's a disappointment," said Steve Meisner, 48, who grew up playing with polka bands, including the one led by his late father, Verne Meisner. "I was a little upset with the way the they worded it. It made it sound like it wasn't considered roots music, and it wasn't considered mainstream music. In their assessment, it didn't deserve a place in American music." Polka, the music that powers Wisconsin's official state dance, was the only genre yanked from the Grammy's unwieldy list of 110 categories. One other category, Latin urban album, was combined with best Latin rock or alternative album into best Latin rock, alternative or urban album. "I think it's a step back again," said Jim Kilian, who'll perform with his band Honky Chicago during Polish Fest, June 19-21. "They fought so hard 25 years ago to get it as a category for the Grammys," he said. "Now it's really going to lose exposure." If the Recording Academy thinks polka is too dull for the Grammy Awards, well, they're wrong. Behind the scenes, polka has as much jockeying for position and competitiveness as an episode of "Gossip Girl." One theory among many comes from Jimmy Sturr, Grammy's undisputed polka favorite. Sturr is credited for bringing polka to the masses with a Polish style of music heavy on trumpets, and says Dick Blaha, "Milwaukee's Polka Ambassador," for wowing the crowds with "his fancy clothes." Sturr's 18 Grammys put him one shy of the number won by Bruce Springsteen, a much bigger name. The New York polka king thinks one reason the Recording Academy dropped his category is because they don't want him to squeeze past the Boss. "They didn't want the polka to be the leading winner in the Grammy Awards," Sturr said by phone from his home. "I don't know. Who knows?" He said he was disappointed but had come to terms with the news. "I'm not upset. I'm a little bit sad," said Sturr, who'll perform at Polish Fest. "I wish we still had our category. I don't think they realize how big polka music really is." In fact, the original polka king, Frankie Yankovic, "did not realize the magnitude of the award or the ceremony until we were there," said Jeff Winard of Milwaukee, who played with Yankovic and sat next to him in 1986 when he received the first Grammy for polka music. But Winard isn't surprised that polka has had its last waltz with Grammy. "When you look at polka music compared to anything, it's very minor," said Winard. "Do they have a category for klezmer music next? How far do you take it?" The Grammy snub is enough for Meisner to give up his membership with the Recording Academy: "There's no reason for me to stay a member." However, younger polka players such as Mike Schneider, 29, are staying strong even as their hopes of winning a polka Grammy are dashed. "It gave polka a spotlight, and now it's one we don't have anymore," Schneider said. Schneider said he isn't devastated by the news - but then, he's already working on a way to snag new listeners and a Grammy. Schneider, who recorded "Pint Size Polkas," a CD for kids, is eyeballing the children's category.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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