Wednesday, July 28, 2021

WACKY WEDNESDAY: Happy Birthday Weird Frank Yankovic

 Today is the birthday of a famous accordion player named Yankovic. 

No, I'm not talking about Weird Al. I'm talking about "America's Polka King," Frankie Yankovic, who was born on this day in 1915 in Davis, West Virginia, where his parents worked in a lumber camp.

The Yankovic family moved to Cleveland when Frankie was but a small lad. There he became immersed in Slovenian-style polka. According to his obituary in the Chicago Tribune:

After learning to play button accordion from one of the Slovenian boarders in his parents' Cleveland home, Mr. Yankovic got a squeezebox of his own as a teenager and made a name for himself in the region by his early 20s.

In 1943, he left to fight in World War II, where he served in the 1st Infantry Division at the Battle of the Bulge. The battle proved nearly fatal for Mr. Yankovic and his musical career when he emerged with frost-bitten hands and feet.

"It was a dreadful experience," he said in a 1995 interview. "My limbs were frozen. In Oxford, England, the doctors said they were going to have to amputate my hands and legs. I told them, `No way. I'd rather die.' What good would I be, an accordionist, with no fingers?

"But you know what happened? The gangrene started going away; it started clearing up. Then the doctors told me there was an accordion in the hospital that I could try practicing on, if I wanted to. So that became my therapy."

Frankie died in 1998 at the age of 83

Here is "Just Because," Frankie's first national hit. Elvis Presley recorded this song during his Sun Records period. But Frankie first released it in 1948. (Actually it goes back to the late 1920s when a band called Nelstone's Hawaiians recorded it.)

Here's one called "Tick Tock Polka":

Frankie sings "Julida Polka":

And no, Frankie was not related to Weird Al -- though the parodist has often joked that his parents bought him an accordion as a child because "there should be at least one more accordion-playing Yankovic in the world." The two famous Yankovics combined forces in 1986:

I'm not sure what this video is, but the song is a polka classic by Frankie Yankovic

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