Fuller Up, The Dead Musician Directory
Frank Yankovic
Old Age?....  Oct 14, 1998
Age 83

      Frank Yankovic, Long-Reigning Polka King, Is Dead at 83

                By BEN RATLIFF 

                 Frank Yankovic, the hard-working singer and accordionist who was crowned the Polka King at 
                 a polka contest in Milwaukee in 1948 and was known by that title through five subsequent 
                decades of performing and recording, died Wednesday at his home in New Port Richey, Fla. He 
                was 83. 

                Although Yankovic moved to Florida in the late 1980s, the "polka belt" -- -- his hometown, 
                Cleveland, and the mid-Atlantic and upper Midwestern states -- was his territory. Until 1994, when 
                he retired after 65 years on the road, he played "Champagne Taste and a Beer Bankroll," "Happy 
                Mountaineer," "My Wife's Chirping Voice Polka" and "In Heaven There Is No Beer" in up to 300 
                shows a year. 

                The modern polka evolved from a Bohemian dance dating from the 1830s. After the great wave of 
                Polish immigration to the United States in the early 20th century, different styles of the two-beat 
                dance music emerged: mainly the East Coast, Chicago and Cleveland-Slovenian. 

                Yankovic became the premier figure in the Slovenian style, and though he still played songs derived 
                from traditional Eastern European folk melodies, he updated the oompah, shedding the heavy brass 
                that defined older polka bands in favor of a banjo, a saxophone and an electric organ. 

                Yankovic's parents were Slovenians who had come to the United States in 1903 and met in a lumber 
                camp in Davis, W.Va. Yankovic was born in Davis, but when his father ran afoul of the local 
                authorities with his bootlegging business, the family relocated to the Slovenian-Italian section of 
                Cleveland called Collinwood, where Yankovic stayed through his young adult life. 

                Impressed by the accordion playing of one of his father's boarders, Yankovic took lessons from him 
                starting at age 9. Within a few years he had mastered the button accordion and started supplementing 
                the family income with his playing. His exposure on a local Slovenian radio program led to greater 
                renown, and his band, the Slovenian Folk Orchestra, cut two records that became local hits. 

                After Yankovic served in World War II, in which he fought in the Battle of the Bulge, he and his 
                band, the Yanks, did "Just Because" for Columbia Records, a song previously recorded by the 
                Texas hillbilly Shelton Brothers. 

                (Since the war, polka and country music have shared audiences as the twin musics of America's 
                working-class steel country; in later years Yankovic would record with Chet Atkins, Riders in the 
                Sky and Cowboy Jack Clement.) 

                "Just Because" was a crossover hit, and the first polka record to sell more than 1 million copies. The 
                following year Yankovic had almost as great a success with "Blue Skirt Waltz." It was a time of 
                obsession with ethnic music in the United States, especially Spanish and Cuban, but even Yankovic 
                was mainstreamed: he went to Hollywood, where he filmed movie shorts, played at the Aragon 
                Ballroom and made records backing artists like Doris Day. 

                "I want to see how far the polka really can go," he told Time magazine in 1950. "There's no reason 
                why polkas shouldn't be just as popular as rumbas." 

                In the early 1960s Yankovic found his greatest sideman, the accordionist Joey Miskulin, who would 
                serve the five-man band both as accordionist (while Yankovic sang) and record producer to the end. 
                In recent years Yankovic made novelty records with the parodist "Weird Al" Yankovic, whom he 
                believed may have been a distant relative, the author and singer Kinky Friedman and the actor Drew 
                Carey. In 1986, the first year the polka became a category, he won a Grammy Award; since then he 
                has been nominated for three more. 

                Yankovic's retirement was widely reported in 1994, but this was to be a repeated announcement, 
                each one with a party to celebrate it. His last performance was 15 months ago in Ohio. 

                Yankovic is survived by his wife, Ida, of New Port Richey, Fla., and their children: Linda Takita of 
                Pleasanton, Calif.; Frank Jr., of Mayfield Heights, Ohio; Richard, of Maui, Hawaii; Andrea 
                McKinnie of Avon Lake, Ohio; Gerald, of Alaska; Mark and Robert, both of Cleveland; and Teresa 
                and Tricia, both of Ohio. 

      New York Times


Frank Yankovic... America's Polka King
    Frank's Life Story...by Frank Smodic, Jr. (1990).  

    Both Andy Yankovic and Rose Mele came to America in 1903 from the Republic of Slovenia. 
    However, neither knew the other in the old country. They first met in a lumber camp in Davis, West Virginia, where 
    many Slovenes worked. Married in 1910, they had three daughters: Josephine, Rose and Mary. In 1915, Frankie, 
    their only son was born.  

    To supplement family income, Frankie's father became involved in the bootlegging business, a common, but illegal 
    practice. When local authorities learned of his activities, the elder Yankovic fled to Cleveland. About ten days later 
    the rest of the family joined him in the Slovene-Italian section of Collinwood where Frankie spent his boyhood and 
    much of his young adult life.  

    Andy worked as a crane operator before investing in a hardware business. In addtion, he always had about seven or 
    eight Slovene bachelors living in the house as boarders. Young and spirited, they were full of vitality and charisma. 
    One of them, Max Zelodec owned a button box ( cheese box in those days). After supper, Max would invariably pck 
    up the button box and the boarders would start singing those good old Slovenian songs. Frankie's father would join 
    in as well as any others who stopped by. While they sang, Frankie's mother would sell them wine. The more the 
    drank, the better they seemed to sing.  

    Frankie noticed how Zelodec was the center of attention and recipient of compliments and drinks. That's when he 
    decided he wanted to be like Max and asked him to give him a few lessons.  

    Frankie learned very quickly and at the age of 9 began to play for the boarders and neighbors. His father was very 
    proud of how well he could play.  

    One day Frankie's mother came home with a button box of his very own, and his playing really started to develop. 
    He carried it everywhere he went. By 15 he had mastered the button box and developed a reputation for playing at 
    various lodges.  

    Much to his father's dismay, Frankie's interest turned to the piano accordion. His father felt the accordion would 
    never provide a living. But, Making a living at music was something Frankie never even dreamt of.  

    Sixteen year old Frankie turned to his mother and after some begging, she bought him his first piano accordion for 
    $500. Because Frankie's mother was afraid of what his dad might say, Frankie had to practice and keep the 
    accordion at sister Mary's house. She also warned him to learn to play well because, she was sticking her neck out.  

    Frankie only had a few lessons in his life, the first from Joe Notari and others from Joe Trolli.  

    Finally the time came when he had enough confidence to face his father. On Christmas Eve, Frankie walked in 
    playing one of dad's favorite Slovene waltzes. His father listened, smiled and put his arms around Frankie and said, 
    "If you're going to play it, play it well."  

    Frankie's first band consisted of such fellows as Frank Skufka on banjo, Bull Dunlavey on sax, Al Naglitch on 
    piano, and Lee Novak on drums. Building their reputation gradually, they soon became one of the most popular 
    bands in town. According to Frankie, "We had more personality." He got the idea from Jackie Zorc, one of the old 
    cheese box masters, who always smiled when he played. "I thought Zorc was most fun, so I imitated him, smiling 
    widely. Then I added another touch and stood up and bounced around the stage. I'd always tell the guys, come on, 
    let's act alive, like we're having a good time and it made a big difference."  

    In 1932, things really started to happen. Doctor James Malle invited Frankie to play on his Sunday Slovenian radio 
    program. Later, Martin Antoncic (Heinie Martin) took it over. Radio gave Frankie great expoosure because 
    everyone was listening to it at that time. Soon people began asking Frankie to make a record which Heinie thought 
    it would be a good idea.  

    In 1938, Frankie went to Columbia and RCA Records, asking to record for them. When both companies refused, he 
    decided to cut two records on his own. However, he wasn't a member of the Musician's Union yet. He still wasn't 
    thinking of music as a career. So to avoid trouble he left his name off the records and recorded under the name of 
    "The Slovene Folk Orchestra."  

    They took the record to Mervar's Record store and it became an instant hit. The records sold as quickly as Mervar 
    received them.  

    The next year, Frankie recorded two more 78 RPM records, once again paying all his own expenses. Again, they 
    sold out as quickly as they were available.  

    The demand for Frankie and the boys was increasing. They played for the dances, weddings and night clubs through 
    Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, while Frankie also worked as a patern maker and accordion teacher.  

    In 1940, Frankie married his first wife June, and almost immediately began raising a family. He continued to draw 
    record crowds everywhere he played. He'd play for $5 and would spend $10. Who's doing the work, and who's 
    making all the money? So in 1941, Frankie decided to go into the tavern business. After all, it took money to raise 
    children. Everybody thought he was crazy. They couldn't understand why he wanted to get involved in the bar 
    business and jeopardize his music. For that reason two members actually quit the band.  

    In about a month, the Yankovic Bar was really jumping, becoming a hangout for musicians like Pecon, Habat, 
    Vadnal, Hokavar, Bass and others. Frankie continued playing at his own bar as well as others.  

    The club's grand opening was December 6,1941, the day before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The war went 
    on for over a year and Frankie never heard from the draft board, probably because he was married and had two 

    Nevertheless, he went to the draft board and told them he did not want to be an exception. On March 17, 1943, 
    Frankie went into the army and of course took his accordion. He entertaind the men in the barracks and was asked 
    to play in the Officer's Club.  

    Home for a two week furlough before going overseas, he couldn't believe how busy the Yankovic Bar was each and 
    every night. He was thinking about making some more records while he had a chance.  

    One afternoon, he got the boys together and cut 32 songs on 16 records. There was no rehearsal or time to fool 
    around, and if they hit a wrong key they kept going. He had Hokavar on bass, Miklavic on banjo, Naglitch on piano 
    and himself on accordion. The sax was never used again. The records were instant hits.  

    Frankie returned to the war and while overseas, encountered a disaster that nearly cost him his life. While fighting 
    in the Battle of the Bulge, he and about a dozen other men were separated from the rest of the force as they fought. 
    Suddenly the momentum of the battle shifted and the Germans were gone. When the rest of the platoon found them 
    the next day they were nearly frozen. Frankie suffered frost bite to his hands and feet so severe that gangrene had 
    set in. The doctors felt they should amputate to prevent the spread of gangrene. But Frankie wouldn't let them. He 
    would rather die than go home without any hands or feet. It was the worst time of his life. After filing him with 
    penicillin and drugs day after day things finally started to improve. The color started to return to his hands and feet 
    and he was starting to move them. For therapy, the doctors brought Frankie an old accordion to play. Eventually he 
    was entertaining the whole hospital.  

    When Frankie left the hospital, he and four other musicians were assigned to special services to entertain the 
    troops. One time, they even performed for General George Patton and his famed third army. They went from camp 
    to camp doing complete stage shows. The sergeant in charge of one of those shows was Sidney Mills, whose uncle 
    owned Mills Publishing Company in New York. Years later, Frankie contracted Sidney and hired Mills Publishing 
    Company to publish the music wriiten by Frankie, Joe Trolli and Johnny Pecon.  

    ON December 6, 1945, Frankie came home from the army to one of the biggest boom times ever. With the war over 
    everybody was starving for some fun. The Yankovic Bar was jumping every night of the week. Frankie started his 
    four piece band again with Hokavar on bass, Naglitch on piano, and Georgie Cook on the banjo. Things were going 
    pretty good for him. He was busy running the bar and at the same time getting more and more requests to play but 
    he still never considered music as a career.  

    He liked the sound of the Solovox (electric organ) and started using it on jobs. But the sound wasn't full enough. 
    After the war, Frankie and Johnny Pecon (a fine chromatic accordion player) became best of friends. In 1946, Pecon 
    joined the band which produced the fullness and sound for which Frankie was looking. Pecon would play harmony 
    while Frankie would play melody. This was a "first" for two accordions to be in the same band. Later, that same 
    year Columbia offered Frankie a recording contract with a two year option that lasted for 26 years.  

    When Johnny came out of the Seabees, he brought with him a tune the Sheldon brothers had written entitled "Just 
    Because". Frankie really liked it and felt it had a lot of potential, but it needed a second part. So Frankie called in 
    Pecon and Trolli and together created the second part.  

    On December 31, 1947, Frankie and the boys had a recording session with Columbia. Frankie suggested "Just 
    Because", but Columbia didn't want anything to do with it because the Sheldon brothers recorded it years before 
    without success. Frankie argued with them, kicking chairs, and throwing sheet music around the room, but Columbia 
    would not budge. Finally Frankie said, "Okay, I'll make you a deal, I'll buy the first 10,000 records myself. I know I 
    can sell them." So, Frankie and his Yanks recorded "Just Because" without a rehearsal featuring Pecon and Frank 
    harmonizing on the vocals.  

    Undoubtedly, that was the beginning of a craze we know of today that has benefited generations of audiences and 
    musicians alike.  

    In 1948, Columbia released "Just Because" and the song broke off breaking the barrier between Polka music and 
    popular music and skyrocketed the Yankovic to National fame. It wasn't long before "Just Because" sold a million 

    Also, in 1948 Frankie became America's Polka King. The major record companies promoted a Polka contest in 
    Milwaukee, Wisconsin to determine the best band. With each company represented, 8,000 spectators voted. When 
    the votes were counted Frank and the boys won by an 8 to 1 margin. They also won the next two years after which 
    the competition ended.  

    Having realized that music would be his lifelong career, Frankie sold the bar business. He put his heart and soul into 
    it with a commitment to go all the way.  

    In 1949, lightning struck again with the recording of "Blue Skirt Waltz" skyrocketing even faster than "Just 
    Because" and became the Polka King's second biggest seller. At that time the Yanks included Stan Slejko on bass, 
    Georgie Cook on banjo, Pecon on second accordion and Al Naglitch on piano.  

    Frankie and the boys were on their way, growing evermore popular and expanding their travels further and further.  

    By 1950, the Yanks were tired of traveling and decided to spend more time with their families. They were gone for 
    months at a time.  

    Frankie was faced with a decision. He knew there was a whole world of Polka fans anxious to hear his music. He 
    also knew there was only one man indispensable to the Yankovic band, that was himself. So he decided to keep 
    traveling and trying out new players as he went along. Frankie never once missed a job or cancalled a booking.  

    Soon Frankie found four men whom he considered the best all around band. They consisted of Tops Cardoni on 
    second accordion, Al Leslie on bass, Buddy Griebel on piano and Carl Paradiso on banjo and guitar. All perfessional 
    musicians with their backgrounds in popular music, they had never played polkas before. At the same time, Frankie 
    hired a manager (booking agent) who had contacts in Hollywood where the band would play for the next several 
    months. On the way to Hollywood, they rehearsed at rest stops where Frankie would teach the boys how to play 
    polkas. By the time they got there they were ready. They played to packed houses on the Holllywood circuit, made 
    five short videos for Universal Pictures and cut three records with Doris Day on vocals.  

    As the years rolled by, Frankie's band kept changing. The boys would spend a few years on the road then decided 
    to pack it in. They were playing as many as three hundred one nighters a year, traveling about 100,000 miles by car 
    and getting home for maybe 25 days out of that whole time. Sometimes, Frankie would hear rumors when his band 
    members would leave (especially his accordion players) that he was through, finished, usually coming from jealous 
    musicians and critics.  

    Each time, Frankie would prove them wrong. He'll admit he's not a real virtuoso, like Myron Floren or Joey 
    Miskulin. But, then one can truly imitate his unique style of playing or that certain on stage personality that can 
    only come from the heart.  

    No matter what, Frankie was always fortunate outstanding musicians and always gave them credit. Some other 
    greats included, Joe Sekardi, Mike Zikovich, and Herb Eberle, Dick Sodja, Frankie Kramer, Eddie Stampfl, Richie 
    Vadnal, Mike Popovich, Roger Bright, Jim Maupin, Don Kotzman and Corky Godic, all accordionists. Also 
    included are Ron Sluga, Chuck Davis, Joe White, Roger DiBenedict on banjo and Adolph "Church" Srnick, and 
    Pete Rogan, one of the finest bass players.  

    Then in the early 60's while playing in Chicago, he noticed a young 13 year old boy sitting by the bandstand staring 
    at him. The boy asked Frankie if he could play along. Frankie always encouraged young talent and brought him up. 
    After listening a while, Frankie knew he was one in a million. His name was Joey Miskulin, and his first job was in 
    1962, while Joey was still 13. This was the start of a relationship that has lasted for the past 35 years. Joey 
    continued his studies of the accordion and music while riding in the back of the bus from job to job. He had a good 
    sense of how Yankovic wanted to be heard and began writing and arranging songs. Later Joey started arranging 
    and producing Frankie's albums which included the Grammy Award Winning album "70 Years of Hits".  

    Of all the musicians Frankie has had, Joey has been without a doubt the most helpful.  

    Columbia continues to release those great Yankovic tunes going from 78 RPM to 45s to 12" LPs. Frankie had his 
    own Television show, "The Yankovic Hour" in Cleveland, but because his travels prevented him from being there 
    every week, the show was changed to "Polka Varieties". Frankie also had his own television show in Chicago and 
    Buffalo. Both shows were called, "The Frankie Yankovic Show: America's Polka King".  

    Over the years, Frank has appeared on many other tv programs such as Johnny Carson, Phil Donahue, Arthur 
    Godfrey, Pattie Page, Jackie Gleason, Kate Smith, David Frost and of course, Lawrence Welk. He has played all 
    the major ballrooms across the country. Breaking attendance records wherever he went. He's also been to other 
    countries including Canada, Germany, Spain and Yugoslavia playing to standing room only audiences.  

    In 1965, Frankie got into the restaurant business with Jimmy Jerele as a partner. It was called "Yankovic's 
    Steakhouse" and was a great gathering place for a lot of Cleveland polka celebrities. It was a very successful 
    venture that lasted a little over 8 years.  

    Of course, Frankie has made a lot of money in his day but he has also suffered his share of losses and hardships.  

    In 1970, the two gold records for "Just Because" and "Blue Skirt Waltz" were lost in an $80,000 house fire.  

    Frankie has had everything from a broken back to a triple bypass. But no matter what the setback may be, he's 
    always managed to bounce right back with the same vigor and drive that he had before.  

    A musician having to be away from ordinary family living usually finds hardship along the way. His marriage to June 
    with eight children: Linda, Frank Jr., Richard, Andrea, Gerald, Mark, John and Robert, ended after 28 years. His 
    second marriage to Pat and two children: Theresa and Tricia, ended in divorce, despite an attempt to slow down with 
    a move to Las Vegas.  

    Frankie's love for the road, his music and the people just couldn't hold him down. He always said, "Life is never 
    sweeter to me then when I'm playing a rousing polka and making people happy."  

    In 1977, Frankie had his autobiography written, "The Polka King: The Life Of Frankie Yankovic", as told by 
    Robert Dolgan. This is an excellent book which is well worth reading. It's now out of print, but often surfaces in 
    used book stores and libraries.  

    Through the years, Frankie has received numerous awards recognizing him for his many achievements. One of his 
    many thrills came in 1969, when the Federation of Slovenian Homes in Cleveland honored him as "Man of the 
    Year". He was one of the first men inducted into the "International Polka Association Polka Hall Of Fame" in 

    He was also one of the first inducted into the "U.S.A. Ironworld Polka Hall of Fame" in Chisholm, Minnesota, and 
    the "Cleveland Style Polka Hall Of Fame" in Cleveland. Perhaps one of his greatest thrills came in 1986, when he 
    won the first Grammy Award ever given for Polka Music.  

    Another exciting came in 1985, when he celebrated his 70th birthday. This is when he met Ida, his beautiful wife of 
    today. She was among the many guests at a party in honor of Frankie's birthday. On December 27, 1987, they were 
    married and today are very happy. She is an equal partner and loves to travel with Frankie. Additionally, she 
    handles many of the business responsbilities and personally operates all of the cassette and record sales. As 
    Frankie comments, "Everyone that meets Ida adores her, which makes me very proud."  

    There's no doubt, Frankie Yankovic is a world class entertainer. A good example of this could be seen one Sunday 
    during an all day festival. Some of the best bands in the country were playing to aritistic perfection. Everyone was 
    having a good time, but there seemed to be something missing. The place needed a spark of life, some excitement.  

    Then it was time for America's Polka King to play. His magnetism seem to take control of the audience. He had 
    everyone stand up and shake hands. Then with a cheerful voice, "This is not a concert, everybody get up and 
    dance". Then he led off with "Just Because" and the place went crazy!  

    Nothing has ever come between Frankie and his fans. If he's not performing for them on stage, he's at his 
    typewriter answering their mail.  

    According to Frankie, "As long as the people keep wanting me to play and I can still move, I'll play."  

    After countless numbers of performances over many years, Frankie's excitement about entertaining has never 
    subsided. Through the years with tireless work and devotion, the king has truly given his all.