Every Friday night we smooth our way into the weekend with music, the universal language. These selections demonstrate that despite what is being passed off as art today, there is plenty of really good music available. Come along and enjoy.
Polish Fest opened today on the Summerest Grounds on Milwaukee’s fabulous lakefront. This week, music with a Polish flavor. Let’s get started.
Operating since 1982, Polish Fest is run by a parent organization, the Polish Heritage Alliance, Inc., that owns its own building at 6941 S. 68th St. in Franklin. According to the website Urban Milwaukee the organization had an annual budget of nearly $1.1 million in 2019, with a net asset balance of $1.5 million, including some $184,000 in cash and a building and land with a value of nearly $1.4 million. The group has a small annual net income, but primarily from a banquet hall at its headquarters in Franklin and Polish oriented programs, including art exhibits, music performances, lectures, historical exhibits, Polish language classes and cooking demonstrations.
For sure entertainers at Polish Fest will be playing polkas. Ah, the polka. Corny? Of course. But also fun, lively, and free-wheeling.
We open with a twin spin, two Milwaukee celebrities.
Liberace died in 1987. Bob Kames died in 2008.
Notice Kames called his hit “Dance Little Bird.” Yes, that’s the official title, not The Chicken Dance.
By the way, Wisconsin designated the polka as the official state dance in 1993 as a symbol of the state’s rich German heritage.
According to Wisconsin Blue Book; “Legislation was introduced at the request of a second grade class from Charles Lindbergh Elementary School in Madison and supported by several groups, including the Wisconsin Polka Boosters, Inc., and the Wisconsin Folk Museum. Supporters documented the polka heritage of Wisconsin and provided evidence that the polka is deeply ingrained in Wisconsin cultural traditions.”
Who says my blog isn’t educational!
One of the more recent musical stars from Poland is Basia Trzetrzelewska, but the music world knows her as Basia.
Basia loved American music, especially jazz. After failing to catch on as a singer in the Chicago area, she moved to London in 1981 and joined the group, Matt Bianco. The band’s first album was a big success, and Basia and keyboardist Danny White left to perform under the name, Basia and immediately hit it big with popular-selling albums until 1995. About that time, Basia cut back on her recording, saying her mother’s death and wars throughout the world made it difficult for her to sing upbeat material.
Danny White persuaded her to return with him to the Matt Bianco band that got back together again. A world tour emerged, and then Basia and White left Matt Bianco again.
Basia is part New Age, part jazz.
From her debut album in 1987, with shots taken in the Philippines.
Basia’s favorite singers are Brazilian bossa nova queen Astrud Gilberto and the late Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin.
Now some entertainers who will be at Polish Fest this weekend. One of them is Stas Venglevski. From his website:
His artistry, dazzling technical command, and sensitivity have brought Stanislav, “Stas,” Venglevski, a native of the Republic of Moldova, part of the former Soviet Union, increasing acclaim as a virtuoso of the Bayan. A two-time first prize winner of Bayan competition in the Republic of Moldova, Stas is a graduate of the Russian Academy of Music in Moscow where he received his Masters Degree in Music under the tutelage of the famed Russian Bayanist, Friedrich Lips. In 1992 he immigrated to the United States.
Stas is an Accordionist, a Musician, an Arranger, an Entertainer and a Teacher. Stas’ repertoire includes his original compositions, a broad range of classical, contemporary and ethnic music. He has toured extensively as a soloist throughout the former Soviet Union, Canada, Europe, and the United States, including numerous performances with Doc Severinsen, Steve Allen and with Garrison Keillor on the Prairie Home Companion Show. Additionally, he has performed with symphony orchestras throughout the United States. He is a regular participant the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s Arts in Community Education Program (ACE).
The Bayan is an accordion that was developed in Russia in the very late eighteen hundreds. It differs from most accordions developed in western Europe primarily in the detail of its construction. These details make the Bayan a richer sounding instrument with a wider range of notes. It shines its best in the classic repertoire, often sounding like a cathedral pipe organ.
Sunday at Polish Fest: Sobieski Cultural Stage
2:00 Stas Venglevski, Jon Proniewski
Also at Polish Fest this weekend, SqueezeBox With Mollie B & Ted Lange.
Mollie B, the multi-instrumentalist, award-winning vocalist, and host of the Mollie B Polka Party TV show, has been performing music all her life. Not only has Mollie performed on over 40 recordings, she has shared her many God-given talents with fans in over 30 states and eleven countries.
The personification of bubbly energy, Mollie has won the title of the “Favorite Female Vocalist” award numerous times, both from the United States Polka Association and the International Polka Association. She has also won multiple awards from the Polka America Corporation for her polka recordings with Ted Lange.
A two-time GRAMMY nominee, International Polka Association “Hall of Fame” member, and the 2019, 2020, and 2021 IPA Best International Male Vocalist, Lange co-leads and co-manages SqueezeBox with Mollie B. While on stage, he is featured on accordion, midi bass, button box and vocals. Lange is not just an award winning-musician, but DJ, promoter, engineer, song writer, arranger and producer.
During COVID the pair continued spreading the gospel of polka.
Now I saw the movie “Amadeus” and there was no polka in there.
Speaking of movies a famous Hollywood star loves the polka and actually requested that Mollie B. have a part in his 2018 film about a 90-year-old horticulturist and Korean War veteran who turns drug mule for a Mexican cartel.
That’s it for this week.
Have a great weekend.
We absolutely must highlight the “Polish Prince.”
Bobby Vinton had 30 Top 40 songs in the 1960s and 1970s, and 24 of his albums made the Billboard Top 200. Vinton’s love songs appealed to not only young fans, but their parents as well.
Stanley Robert Vinton was born in 1935 in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. The gifted child played clarinet, then the trumpet in a band he put together in high school. Some of the band members told Vinton he should sing, but Vinton was interested in band music. His ensemble played at college events and dances in the Pittsburgh area while he attended Duquesne University.
A local disc jockey, Dick Lawrence liked Vinton’s vocalizing and made some demo tapes that found their way to the Epic label where Vinton was offered a contract.
At first Vinton recorded two band music albums that didn’t do so well. Epic wanted to dump Vinton who realized his contract gave him the opportunity to record two more songs.
Vinton made it clear to Epic he wanted to sing. Epic wasn’t thrilled about the idea but eventually agreed.
Epic’s new singer went to #1 with “Roses Are Red” in 1962 and hit #1 again in 1963 with “Blue Velvet,” and “There! I Said It Again.” The following year Vinton hit the top of the charts again with “Mr. Lonely.”
No more band music for Vinton. He left the group to go solo.
Then came the British Invasion. Like other American acts Vinton suffered, but stuck around, parting ways with Epic to go to ABC records where in 1974 he proudly wore his Polish heritage on his sleeve, thanks to his mother.
“I came home from a tour in Italy and I made a record in Italian,” Vinton said. “My mom was in the audience and I sang it, but she seemed upset. She was pouting.
“I said, ‘Mom, what’s wrong?’
“She said, ‘How come you can make a record in Italian but you can’t make a Polish record?’
“I said, ‘Mom, they don’t make Polish hit records.’
“Well, why don’t you try and make one?’”
His single “My Melody of Love,” made the Top Ten and struck gold, spending two weeks at number three on the Hot 100 chart in November 1974 and one week at number one on the Billboard easy listening chart.
Vinton’s career was rejuvenated. He got his own syndicated television series, The Bobby Vinton Show, which remained on the air from 1975 to 1978.
Now 87, Vinton retired from active performing in 2014.
From The Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, 1981.