Vadnal Family Tribute Exhibition and CD Debut, February 17
Bandleaders Johnny Vadnal and Richie Vadnal brought national and international renown to the Cleveland-Style Polka sound. With brothers Frank and Tony and the loving influence of mother Anna, the Vadnal family of musicians delighted dancers and fans with their lyrical waltzes and jazzy polkas. On Wednesday, February 17, 2010, the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame and Museum honors their legacy with a multimedia exhibition and CD release, "The Vadnals: The Cleveland Style's Premier Polka Family." Richie Vadnal appears in person to debut his new CD album of his and Johnny's greatest polka hits. The program begins at 7:00 p.m. and admission is free.
The exhibition features historic photographs and vintage video clips covering 70 years of the family band. Johnny's own accordion is featured, along with Richie's Slovenian costume. The Vadnals first appeared together as youngsters, performing with sister Valeria in 1938. In the polka heyday following World War II, the Johnny Vadnal Orchestra was one of most popular of the nation's Cleveland-Style bands. In the polka revival of the 1960s and 1970s, Richie Vadnal brought a fresh style and led popular polka tours to Slovenia. Wherever they appeared, the Vadnals were never far from their Slovenian roots.
All four brothers, plus mother Anna, have received lifetime recognition in the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame. Over the years, Vadnal band members included Hall of Fame honorees such as Frank Mahnic, Duke Marsic, Bill Srnick, Ron Sluga, Bob Gospich, and Joe Stradiot. Sister Valeria's son, Tony Fortuna, also led an orchestra and was a founder of the Polka Hall of Fame.
JOHNNY VADNAL led one of the greatest Cleveland-Style Polka bands of all time. Johnny's was the fun band ¾ always singing and swinging. His upbeat sound earned him a recording contract with RCA Victor and a hit with the romantic waltz, "Yes, Dear." Johnny broadcasted a national polka show on Mutual Radio from Cleveland's Bowl Ballroom and hosted the first Slovenian TV show, already in 1950.
FRANK VADNAL was a virtuoso on the guitar and banjo and among the best sideman of any Cleveland-Style band. He gave verve and swing to the unique Vadnal sound with songs like "Happy Guitar." Gibson Guitar ads featured Frank alongside Les Paul. He harmonized with brother Tony on many memorable tunes, both in Slovenian and English.
TONY VADNAL performed on the bass and led the vocals. His engaging smile, good looks and smooth baritone brought class to the ensemble. He could yodel, too. Tony appeared on more than 250 RCA Victor recordings and every Vadnal LP and TV show. He backed up brother Richie on sell-out tours to Slovenia.
ANNA VADNAL instilled a passion for music and Slovenian culture in her five children and helped them start the first Vadnal family band. She was very active in Cleveland's Slovenian scene as a stage director, performer and drama and music coach, having led the Slovenian Youth Chorus. Anna was a long-time member of the Jadran Singing Society and wrote Slovenian lyrics for songs like "Moonlight and Roses."
RICHIE VADNAL brought charisma and new popularity to the Vadnal Orchestra. Young Richie toured with Polka King Frank Yankovic as a teen to learn the business. In 1966 Johnny entrusted the band to his kid brother. Richie's boy-next-door appeal won over new fans with tunes like "Ta Glazek Je Prazen" and "L-O-V-E." Polka tours took his happy sound around the world. He is still a legend in Slovenia with "No Pivo Today."
After the exhibition opening, Richie presents his new CD showcasing some of the most beloved melodies recorded by the Vadnals. Few of Richie's recordings have been available on CD. Now Vadnal fans can listen to tunes Richie performed on TV's "Polka Varieties" and on polka tours around the world.
"This is really an honor for me and the whole family," said Richie. "It means so much to me when people tell me how they liked our band's music. With this new CD, they can enjoy our songs all over again." Richie will be available for questions and autographs.
Much of the exhibition was made possible through the donation of Johnny's archives and accordion by his wife Alice. A highlight of the show is a 1951 TV broadcast with Johnny and the band and Richie on "Polka Varieties" in 1968 with his mother. Other photos and mementos are from the Hall of Fame's extensive music and Slovenian archives maintained by the American Slovenian Polka Foundation.
The Polka Hall of Fame is located at 605 East 222nd Street in Euclid, Ohio. Museum and gift shop hours are Tuesday through Friday, noon to 5:00, and Saturdays, 10:00 to 3:00. Admission is free. For more information, call (216) 261-FAME, toll-free (866) 66-POLKA, or check the website, www.polkafame.com.