The Passing of Chicago's Polka King
As Submitted to the Congressional Record
On Monday morning, Eddie Blazonczyk, Sr. passed away in Palos Heights, Illinois. He was known in the greater Chicago area as the Polka King.
Eddie was born in Chicago in 1941 to Polish immigrant parents—both musicians. It is no surprise, then, that Eddie started playing the accordion at the age of 12. Eddie’s first love was rock-and-roll. But influenced by his mother’s fondness for the music of her homeland, he was soon playing polka music.
In 1962, Eddie Blazonczyk joined a local polka band called the Versatones. This was a union that would last for the rest of his life. His son, Eddie Blazonczyk, Jr, later played with the Versatones. Today, the Versatones are the most sought after polka band in the music industry. While they are popular in communities all over the country, Chicago has always been home to the band, and Chicago knows polka.
The Chicago metropolitan area has the largest Polish population outside of Poland. The Polish language is the third most commonly spoken language in the greater Chicago area. In Illinois, the first Monday of March is Casimir Pulaski Day, a day when all state government buildings are closed in remembrance of “the father of the American cavalry.” The International Polka Association moved to Chicago in 1968. We even have a Chicago style of polka music, distinguished by heavier clarinet and trumpet and, of course, the button-box accordion. Eddie Blazonczyk helped define Chicago style polka, even as he grew into his unofficial role as polka royalty.
In 1967, a Congressional Committee awarded 26 year old Eddie Blazonczyk and the Versatones the title of “The Nation’s #1 Polka Band.” In 1970, Eddie was elected into the International Polka Association, Polka Music Hall of Fame. The Versatones also have sixteen Grammy nominations and a Grammy award in 1986 for their “Another Polka Celebration” album. First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton presented him with the National Endowment for the Arts 1998 National Heritage Fellowship for preserving Polish Heritage Music.
Eddie took a traditional sound and infused it with rock-and-roll, Cajun, zydeco, and country, creating something both familiar and entirely different. The Polish American community lost a music hero this week, but his legacy will live on at weddings, celebrations and parties for generations to come. I extend my sympathies to Eddie’s wife, Christine—or Tish as many know her—his daughter Kathy, his sons Eddie and Tony, his grandchildren Cayle, Anya, and Anthony, and his many nieces and nephews.
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