(Polka “king” Frankie Yankovic stands fifth from left. National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame.)
Cleveland has two music halls of fame. One the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is widely known, but the second, the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame is not on everyone’s radar, so to speak. But it certainly should be given the importance of this musical genre in Cleveland (and elsewhere in America) and the fact that it, like Rock has evolved and changed with the time. Indeed, it represents a true world music.
Most people tend to see Polka as a single musical style, one associated with European immigrants who came to, and worked in industrial cities like Cleveland during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Yet, like that immigration, it was and is diverse – Slovenian polka is not like Polish polka, and certainly not like the German style. And, like the immigrants themselves, Polka became Americanized, particularly by the children of the immigrants. It probably reached its peak popularity after World War II when artists like Frankie Yankovic, who grew up in the Collinwood Slovenian community produced two recordings that sold over a million copies.
It would be the next generation – the children of the immigrants’ children, who would gravitate to Rock music, and polka would slowly decline. Yet, like the city and the United States, it continued to change with fusions with country and western music and other styles brought by more recent immigrant groups. Polka today echoes both the past and the ongoing present.
So, take a visit to that other Hall of Fame in Euclid, Ohio, and check for the radio stations where polka is still played, or better still, “invite yourself” to a wedding where polka will echo family and community traditions.