Frankie Yankovic

Listen to “Who Stole the Keeshka?”

Frankie Yankovic

1915-1998, Davis, Tucker County

America’s undisputed Polka King, Frankie Yankovic did more to popularize polka music than any other single performer and remains the yardstick by which all other polka artists are measured. He was the first to score a million-selling single, the first to perform on TV, and the first to win a Grammy for “Best Polka Album.” Yankovic was born to Slovenian immigrants in the small logging town of Davis. After his father was caught bootlegging liquor, the family abruptly moved to Cleveland where at age nine Frankie began taking accordion lessons. By the age of 16, he switched to the more challenging piano accordion and soon formed his own polka band, making regular appearances on a local Slovenian radio show. After being turned down by both Columbia and RCA, Yankovic put out a 78 rpm record on his own Yankee label which became a local hit and prompted another self-released and self-distributed follow-up in 1939. In 1941, he opened his own bar which allowed his band to play closer to home. Yankovic enlisted in 1943, fought in the Battle of the Bulge and returned home to find Columbia had reconsidered its earlier rejection and offered him a contract.

In 1948, he was first crowned “America’s Polka King” at a contest in Milwaukee (where he later won a battle of the bands against Duke Ellington) and went on to score a major national hit with “Just Because,” a gold selling cover of a relatively obscure country song. His 1949 follow-up, “Blue Skirt Waltz,” was another big seller. Yankovic brought his band to Hollywood in the early ’50s where they recorded with Doris Day and made several short films for Universal that showcased his band. He continued to perform through the ’50s and ’60s, waxing many of the genre’s best-known songs including “Beer Barrel Polka,” “Who Stole the Keeshka,” “Too Fat Polka,” and “In Heaven There is No Beer.”