Thursday, April 15, 1993

RIP: Frankie Yankovic

Tampa, Florida - Frankie Yankovic, the accordian-playing Polka King from Cleveland who had folks rolling out the barrel and asking who stole the kishka for generations, died at his home yesterday. He was 83. Mr. Yankovic wowed dance hall crowds throughout the Midwest for more than 60 years with his rollicking, toe-tapping performances, won the first Grammy ever awarded for polka, in 1986, and more recently reached a whole new generation by teaming up with TV’s Drew Carey and “Weird Al” Yankovic, who was thought to be a distant relative. “His appeal, it was the same thing as Elvis Presley,” said Joe Miskulin, a Nashville recording artist who started playing with Mr. Yankovic at age 13. “You saw a guy who came from very poor beginnings achieve exactly what he wanted to do. He had charisma. He’d walk through the dance floor and you’d watch heads turn and everyone want to touch him.” Mr. Yankovic fell last week at his home in New Port Richey, near Tampa, and was briefly hospitalized. The cause of his death was not immediately known. Mr. Yankovic was the best-known practitioner of Slovenian-style polka, which is heavy on the accordian, clarinet and saxophone. Polish-style polka features accordians and trumpets and has a faster beat. “The beat that I gave it was different. It was acceptable to teenagers as well as the older folks,” Mr. Yankovic said. “I took the real old-time polkas and modernized them.” Mr. Yankovic had his two biggest hits in the late 1940s. His signature polka, “Just Because,” sold more than 1 million copies in 1948, as did “Blue Skirt Waltz” the following year. His other hits included “In Heaven There Is No Beer,” “Dizzy Day Polka,” “Accordian Man Waltz,” “Champagne Taste and a Beer Bankroll” and his version of “Beer Barrel Polka.” On his album “Songs of the Polka King, Volume 2,” which this year earned him his fourth Grammy nomination, Mr. Yankovic teamed up with the song parody King “Weird Al” Yankovic for a version of “Who Stole the Kishka.” The album also included a duet with Carey. The tubby fellow Clevelander joined Mr. Yankovic for the “Too Fat Polka,” which proclaims: “I don’t want her, you can have her! She’s too fat for me!” Mr. Yankovic was born in Davis, West Virginia, in 1915.
- Associated Press