Cleveland’s Polka King - Johnny Vadnal

Article - #3 (By Alana Baranick - 03, 01 2008)










Mentor, Johnny Vadnal, an internationally known accordionist and polka bandleader who had his own television show in the early 1950s, died Monday at LakeWest Hospital in Willoughby of complications from emphysema, said his wife, Alice. The 84-year-old Mentor resident is mentioned regularly in the same breath with Frank Yankovic and Johnny Pecon as the archetype polka musician. Vadnal was designated automatically  by proclamation, no vote required  to the inaugural class of the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame in 1988. He was named to the International Polka Association's Hall of Fame in 1987. The National Broadcasters Hall of Fame inducted him in 1996 to recognize him as a television pioneer. Beginning in 1949, the Johnny Vadnal Orchestra starred in a half-hour live polka show, a forerunner of "Polka Varieties," that aired on WEWS Channel 5 at 1 p.m. each Sunday. The band also performed on Mutual Broadcasting System radio shows broadcast from the Bowl Ballroom on the southeast side of Cleveland. Vadnal had a successful recording career with RCA Victor, Imperial and Mlay record labels. His biggest hit, "Yes, Dear Waltz," sold 50,000 copies in its first week. With the exception of a short period of time when he lived in Florida and turned his band's operation over to his younger brother Richie, Vadnal and his band made music several times a week at dance halls, cultural festivals and other events in Northeast Ohio for more than 50 years. He retired in 1997, when arthritis hampered his ability to play accordion. "Even though he retired, he was always on the scene, talking to musicians, encouraging their efforts," said Tony Petkovsek, founding chairman of the Cleveland-Style hall of fame. Vadnal was born in Cleveland and grew up on the city's East Side. His father was a blue-collar worker. His mother taught Vadnal and his siblings to play musical instruments. In 1938, the Vadnal Quartet, featuring Johnny on accordion, Tony on violin, Frankie on banjo and Valeria on piano, gave its first public performance. The Vadnal brothers went on to form the nucleus of the Johnny Vadnal Orchestra. Vadnal, who graduated from Collinwood High School in 1941 and was inducted into the school's hall of fame in 2002, won a popularity contest in 1949 that dubbed him "Cleveland's Polka King." His hit songs include "Wayside Polka," "Two-Timing You" and "Jazz Time Polka." He shared composing credits for "Slap Happy Polka" with Johann Strauss in 1952, when he converted the familiar melody of "Vienna Blood," a waltz that Strauss penned in the 1800s, into an upbeat polka. "Slap Happy" and Vadnal's 1982 composition, "My Alice Waltz," were dubbed "Greatest All-Time Cleveland-Style Hits" by Petkovsek's organization in 1994. Vadnal named the waltz for his wife, Alice. They would have celebrated their 26th wedding anniversary March 12. "He said many, many times, he felt it was the best composition he did," his wife said. "I get chills whenever I hear it. He put such feeling into that."






Johnny Vadnal

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