State of Sound

What is the sound of a dream?

It can be the romantic guitarron and marimba brought to Illinois from Mexican immigrants. It is the joyful accordion delivered from the seekers of opportunity from Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Mexico. The Irish carried their flutes, tin whistles, and even harps to the New America. The Germans and Ukrainians imported the lilt of the zither, a guitar-like string instrument that was later played by Dolly Parton.

These sounds are warm reminders of home in a new home.

This is world music that could soothe a singular soul. This hybrid music was played at anniversaries, birthdays, and funerals across the wide-ranging State of Illinois. The collective elements of this immigrant sound created a new dance card. It was the first soundtrack of a land filled with possibility, power, and the promise of a better tomorrow.

Featured Artist:
Eddie Blazonczyk, Sr.

Play the Biography

 Biography Transcript

Eddie Blazonczyk  

Born in Chicago in 1941 Eddie Blazonczyk grew up listening to the leading polka acts from around the country. He did this by spending much of his childhood at his Polish immigrant parents owned business, the Pulaski ballroom.

In true teenage style Eddie initially rebelled against his polka roots and played in rock’n’roll bands, touring with Buddy Holly and Gene Vincent. It didn’t take long for Eddie to cross over from the world of rock to the grass roots music of his ethnic heritage.

Starting Bel-Aire records in 1963, after realizing larger labels no longer had any interest in polka music, Eddie and his band the Versatones attracted some of the best polka artists. For the next two decades Chicago was considered by many to be the nation’s polka capital. With over 60 albums to his name this Grammy award winning polka artist toured widely and was also named a National Heritage Fellow.

In 2001 he retired and his son took over the band. Eddie Blazonczyk passed away in Palos Heights, Illinois in 2012. He was 70 years old. 

Artists of the Sound

Francis O'Neill
Li'l Wally
Mariachi Herencia de México
The Drovers
Sones de México


Eddie Blazonczyk, Sr., 1986 Grammy Award for Best Polka Recording

Eddies Blazonczyk, Sr.’s, Versatones won this Grammy Award for the record, Another Polka Celebration. He recorded the album in his own Chicago studio for his Bel-Aire label, which he started in 1963.

Courtesy of Eddie Blazonczyk, Jr.

1960 Fender Precision Bass Guitar Owned by Eddie Blazonczyk, Sr.

Eddie Blazonczyk, Sr., the King of Chicago Polka, is a Grammy Award winner, multi-Grammy nominee, and a National Heritage Fellowship winner.  This was his primary instrument from 1965 until its “decommissioning” in the late 1980s.  The bass has been refinished several times and recently restored.

Courtesy of Eddie Blazonczyk, Jr.

Seàn Cleland’s fiddle from The Drovers

Founded in 1988, The Drovers were a popular touring Irish band from Chicago. They recorded several albums and were also featured in two motion pictures, Backdraft (1991) and Blink (1993). The band’s founder, Seàn Cleland, modified this fiddle to run through an amplifier for live performances.

Courtesy of Seàn Cleland,
The Drovers founder and fiddle player

Li’l Wally’s Chemnitzer Concertina

Li’l Wally (Walter Jagiello) was a Chicago-Style Polka master musician who sang in both Polish and English. This highly decorated concertina (similar to an accordion) was Wally’s prized possession and primary instrument, along with the drums.

Courtesy of the Estate of
Walter Jagiello and Jay Jay Record Co.

Sones de México Performance Costume/Uniform

When performing, Sones de México members wear Guayabera shirts, red paisley bandana neckties with a silver ring, and a Sahuayo-style Mexican hats. The Grammy and Latin Grammy-nominated group formed in the Pilsen neighborhood in 1994 and have performed all over the country.  

Courtesy of Sones de México Ensemble

Donkey Jaw and Antler Instrument from Sones de México

Sones de México is an ensemble organization specializing in Mexican ”Son,” including the regional styles of Huapango, Gustos, Chilenas, Son Jarocho, and more. This traditional jawbone instrument, known as a quijada, produces a powerful buzzing sound like a rattle.

Courtesy of Sones de México Ensemble

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