...last update 18 April 2012.
Li'l Wally Jagiello - The World's Polka King
His bio released several years ago read “Li'l Wally Jagiello, the incomparable entertainer in the polka industry -. The World’s Polka King the small but mighty one.” On Thursday, August 17, 2006. the polka world lost its king.
Born the son of Polish immigrants in Chicago, on August 1. 1930, Walter Jagiello started singing for the public at the age of eight and it began a career that went on for almost 70 years.
A man of many talents, he was a singer fluent in Polish and English, a composer, arranger, drummer, self-taught concertina player, publisher, disc jockey, and owner of several businesses. With his five piece band he have traveled throughout the United States, Canada and Europe, entertaining thousands, playing from the heart with no music charts on the bandstand.
In 1949, he recorded eight songs of his own composition for Columbia Records. In 1951, Li’l Wally formed his own record company, Jay Jay Records, which is was, at the time, the largest polka record company in the industry. In 1958 he started the first pressing plant in the polka industry, pressing his own records, as well as for other clients in the City of Chicago. Wally's record companies have recorded dozens of well-known stars including, Ed Zima, Marion Lush, Ed Guca, the Ampol-Aires, Jimmy Sturr, Marish Data, Casey Siewierski, Paliga Polka Dots, Eddie Lash, Mike Douglas, The Bonnevilles and more.
Li’I Wally started his first polka radio show in 1950 on Monday at 5:00 P.M. on Station WCRW. He also did radio programs broadcast from Jagiello’s Record Shop, from The Lucky Stop Lounge, from Pulaski Ballroom, and from the Aragon Ballroom. Over the years, radio programs by Jagiello were broadcast on WOPA, WSBC, WLS, and WTAQ.
Wally approached the owner of the Aragon ballroom, for a booking. The ballroom, as stated in Jagiello’s biographical release, had never featured polka music before his first of a several appearances at the Aragon in February of 1955. Approximately 3000 fans expressed their loyalty and liking for Li’l Wally and his music. A second appearance on May 19, 1955, at the request of the Aragon management, drew a crowd of 4,580. Public response resulted in Li’l Wally being acclaimed as Chicago’s Polka King in a September 15, 1955 ceremony by the Aragon management. Li’l Wally appeared in many lounges throughout Chicago’s "Polish Broadway" and the country.
At the insistence of his musician, Chester Prazuch, who requested Wally to record , the song “Wish I Was Single Again” and within two weeks 150,000 copies of the single were sold in the Chicago area alone. The song made it to Number 22 on the Billboard Top 40 Chart. Li'l Wally's "No Beer in Heaven" was on the top ten Polish tunes of 1965 for 49 weeks in a row. This was according to a survey by Ruda's Music of Buffalo, NY.
Li’l Wally is has stated to have composed over 2,000 songs. His hits included "Johnnie's Knockin'," "She Like Kielbasa," "Two Bucks" polka, "Take Me Baby," "Leaving for The Service," "Seven Days & Seven Night," "Thanks for a Wonderful Evening," "Li'l Wally Twirl," "Broken Hearted," "Happy Birthday Johnny," "God Bless our Polish Pope," and "Happy Anniversary." He also co-wrote the White Sox fight song "Let's Go, Go-Go White Sox."
Li'l Wally was one of the first to have tours in the polka industry. In 1960 he had tours to Miami Beach, then cruises to Nassau and Freeport in the Bahamas. He also ran tours to Disneyworld in Anaheim, California, Las Vegas, and California to the Lawrence Welk Show. Jagiello and the band performed for boat cruises on Lake Michigan, and in 1965 and 1966 he had a tour to Europe, visiting France, Poland, Italy, Austria, England, Holland and Belgium.
In 1969 Li’l Wally was elected first into the ‘Polka Hall of Fame” along with his good friend, Frank Yankovic. His biography is listed “Who’s Who,” the first edition being in 1973. The American Bi-Centennial Research Institute presented Li’l Wally with an award for the recognition of the professional and civic attainments on Novermber 20, 1973. The International Who’s Who of Intellectuals, International Biographical Centre, Cambridge, England, awarded Li’l Wally Jagiello the Certificate of Inclusion in recognition of his distinguished achievements throughout the world, in June 20, 1978. A letter from Pope John Paul II, received August 18, 1979, thanking him for the record and song, his song "God Bless Our Polish Pope," was one of Wally’s prize possessions.
Li’l Wally Jageillo died in Miami Beach on Aug. 17 of heart failure. His survivors include his wife, Jeanette, and his brother, Frank.
Li'l Wally was and is a Polka Legend. His ability to work a crowd, deliver a song, and make an audience part of the show was amazing. He was Maly Wladziu and always will be the Polka King.
Memories of Li’l Wally
Eddie Blazonczyk, Sr.......I was a true polka fan of Lil Wally Jagiello. Wally played at my mom's banquet hall, Pulaski Village, every Sunday afternoon, in the 1950's. He entertained in the Blue Room of Pulaski Village. I admired him from the time I was a young kid on. I learned a lot about promoting polka music by watching Wally in those early years. Wally did a lot to promote Chicago Style Polkas, all over the country. His vocals, both Polish and English were always sung to perfection. I bought my very first set of drums from Lil Wally back in 1952. They were Slingerland drums. Lil Wally's Chicago Style of Polkas will certainly live on forever.
Don Ptak......In 1955, while in high school, Wally gave me a job at Jay Jay records. A year later he hired me to play in his band and bought me a new trumpet for Christmas. While I was in the service Wally would fly me to Jobs when I had leave or a pass. When he moved to Florida he offered me a job but I declined and hooked up with my boyhood friend Eddie Blazonczyk. I did a radio show and even filled in occasionally on Li’l Wallys radio Show. I started the Casinos, recorded on Belaire and backed Wally when he played in Chicago. I played my last job with Li’ Wally in June of 1980 after we filmed a movie and afterward Joe Kolden (Accordion) was killed in a car accident on the way home. I arranged and recorded his last CD, Happy Birthday America. I have fond memories of Li’l Wally and got to travel all over the country with him and introduce Chicago style polkas which we exported to the rest of the world. Rest in peace Wally.
Eddie Blazonczyk, Jr.......Simply put, if not for Wally's achievements and passion for this music, most of us would not be involved in this field of music today. Some of his early classics are still the bar by which great Chicago-style polkas are measured!
Gene Mikrut...... Li’l Wally …Whether you want to refer to it as, Chicago, Dyno,Push, or Honky style, they all evolved in some way from the Li'l Wally Style of polka music.
Ken Yagelski (ConcertinaMusic.com)......There are generations of professional and amateur musicians alike who decided to play Polka music all because of hearing Li'l Wally's upbeat and lively style. Polka music today continues to reflect the influence of his popular melodies, and Wally's tunes are certain to be played by musicians for generations to come. I thank Li'l Wally for helping to keep Polka music, an important part of our Polish-American heritage, alive and in the present.
Lenny Gomulka......Li'l Wally Jagiello set a standard unequaled in the world of polka music. He was distinctively original as a composer, as a singer, as a musician and as a promoter. He has inspired me as far back as I can remember and he continues to influence polka bands today. In fact, today's Polish polka bands are influenced by Li'l Wally and some have yet to realize it. Thank you for your music Maly Wladziu. May God Bless you. Rest in Peace.
Richie Gomulka......Li'l Wally was one of my mentors. His passing away leaves a loss and sadness within me. As I continue to perform on the polka scene, I pray that God above allows me to make people happy as Li'l Wally did. May he forever rest in peace.
Polka Legend Li'l Wally in one of his appearances on the Lawrence Welk TV program.