Polka Hall of Fame in Cleveland keeps both the musical beat and the history of the art form

Polka is celebrated in the music's Hall of Fame

EUCLID, Ohio - For 52 years, Tony Petkovsek has kept a smile on his face and an upbeat tempo in his voice as he selected both vinyl records and CDs to keep alive the music he loves the most. Petkovsek is a radio disc jockey on WELW, an AM radio station in suburban Cleveland where the accent is on polka music. 

"This is twenty-four-seven, polka heaven dot com," said Petkovsek into the microphone, informing his radio listeners the signal pumped out of the small radio station in Fairport Harbor, Ohio, is also on the Internet, beaming its rhythmic signal across the worldwide web.

So in love with the polka music he has played for more than a half-century, Petkovsek was one the people instrumental in founding the Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame in suburban Cleveland. It is housed in an old stone building which once served as the Euclid City Hall.

Petkovsek spends much time in both the radio station and the Hall of Fame. Polka is not only in his heart. It is in his bloodstream.

"It means so much to us," said Petkovsek, whose ancestors immigrated to Cleveland from Eastern Europe, where Polka was born in the middle of the 19th Century. 

"We know that this community is so rich in its culture," said Petkovsek.

At the Hall of Fame, the accent is on Cleveland-style polka.

"Here the polka was Americanized with banjo and a drum set and some influence from jazz, country, and Broadway musicals," said Joe Valencic, president of the Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame.

The museum, filled with photographs, momentos, and musical instruments is a tribute to the music which began in Europe and swept into America with the masses of Eastern Europeans who migrated to the U.S. during the late 19th and early 20th Century.

"With English lyrics and catchy tunes, it was the right music for the right time," said Valencic, tracing how polka has evolved through the years. He said in the decade after World War II, "America was looking for happy music" to help the country forget the troubles it had experienced during the conflict.

One of Valencic's favorite rooms at the hall of fame houses dozens of accordions donated by many of Polka's biggest stars, including Cleveland's Frankie Yankovic.

Valencic said the room of accordions is the heartbeat of the hall.

"This is like having Elvis Presley's first guitar; John Lennon's first guitar," said Valencic. "These are the accordions which help start so much."

The Cleveland-style Polka Hall of Fame celebrates a strong music from the fertile soil of Eastern Europe.  When immigrants from that part of the world emigrated to the United States, they brought their music with them.  Some of them settled in Cleveland in huge numbers.  They were influenced by music which was already in the U.S. So they incorporated some of it into their own polka rhythms and beats. 

At the Cleveland-Style Hall of Fame at 605 East 222 Street in Euclid, that rich history is celebrated.

The website for the hall of fame is http://www.Clevelandstyle.com .           

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