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NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman's Statement on the Death of 1998 NEA National Heritage Fellow Eddie Blazonczyk

"On behalf of the National Endowment for the Arts, it is with great sadness that I acknowledge the passing of Polish-American musician and bandleader Eddie Blazonczyk. Blazonczyk not only innovated a new sound for polka that melded several traditional styles, but his dedication to the music led him to help found the International Polka Association, earning him the nickname 'Polka King.' We join many others in Chicago's polka community and beyond in mourning his death while celebrating his life and lasting legacy."

Eddie Blazonczyk was born on July 12, 1941, in Chicago, the son of immigrants from the rural Tatras Mountains region of southern Poland. His parents owned and operated the Pulaski Ballroom, where Eddie heard some of the most influential polka players of the day, such as Steve Adamczyk, Lil' Wally Jagiello, and Eddie Zima. When Blazonczyk's father bought a new tavern in the Wisconsin north-woods village of Hiles, the young Eddie was exposed to the music of other Slavs, Scandinavians, and "Kaintucks" -- Kentuckians who came to work in the timber-producing region. As a teenager, Eddie began playing the new popular rockabilly music with his group, Eddie Bell and the Hill Boppers. When he moved back to Chicago in 1963, he rededicated himself to the Polish music of his heritage.

Blazonczyk formed his own polka band, the Versatones, and created the Bel-Aire record label. He worked to forge a new polka sound that incorporated the more raucous approach of the much-admired Lil' Wally with the polished style of the influential vocalist Marion Lush. His son and fellow musician Eddie Blazonczyk, Jr. described, his father's unique "push" style Chicago sound as "the driving rhythm which is anchored by the heavy accordion bellows-shake and pushing drum and then amplified by heavy brass and soulful polka vocals." Blazonczyk played several instruments but preferred to play the bass, which freed him to sing both English and Polish lyrics in his pleasant tenor voice.

Eddie Blazonczyk was a powerful organizing force in the polka world and has received numerous honors for his work. He was one of the five founders of the International Polka Association and promoted many dances and festivals. His Bel-Aire record label has recorded and distributed a wide range of polka music. In 1986, his Polka Celebration recording received a Grammy Award. Blazonczyk received the NEA National Heritage Fellowship in 1998.

Click here for more information on the National Heritage Fellowships.