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Ohio Life Travel

The National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame and Museum

This spot celebrates the accordion-based music the city made famous following World War II. 

Think of Cleveland’s musical legacy, and one’s mind tends to go to the glass-paneled Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But the beat hardly stops there. Long before John Mellencamp and Madonna, there was Johnny Pecon and Frankie Yankovic — international stars who carried a tune all Cleveland’s own. 

Pecon and Yankovic and many others made their names playing what is known as Cleveland-style polka, and their legacy is celebrated at Euclid’s National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame and Museum. “It’s rooted in the folk music that Slovenian immigrants brought with them,” hall of fame president Joe Valencic says of the musical style. “It’s usually with a drum set, bass player, some type of saxophone [and] an accordion.” 

The popularity of polka grew as soldiers returned to the United States following World War II looking for fun. “America was looking for old-fashioned, good-time music to forget about the war and the years of austerity,” Valencic adds. 

As Cleveland-area musicians garnered national recording contracts, the music spread to other ethnically diverse regions of the United States, from Pittsburgh to Fontana, California. Even after polka’s heyday in the ’40s and ’50s, the music had shaped Cleveland, and, at one time, there were six accordion manufacturers in the city.

A group of musicians and local leaders founded the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame in 1987 to commemorate the city’s role in polka history and to keep the sound alive. In addition to photographs, accordions and records (plus the largest collection of polka CDs for sale in the country), the museum also hosts annual events such as Thanksgiving Polka Weekend. Musicians hail from Ohio and across the U.S., some even traveling from abroad, for a weekend of music, dancing and awards. 

“It’s a three-day Woodstock for polka music,” says Valencic.

Visit website for hours and admission. 605 E. 222nd St., Euclid 44123, 216/261-3263, clevelandstyle.com

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