Hall of Fame – 2021
Richard Towalski (1942-2001) was a well-known polka performer whose band, Li’l Richard and the Polka All-Stars, performed throughout the Midwest and East Coast. Li’l Richard (or Mały Rysiu) was born in 1942 in Chicago, Illinois, where he grew up in the Bucktown neighborhood. When he was four years old, his grandmother began taking him to weekend picnics at Caldwell Woods where he watched bands play traditional Polish folk songs and favorite Polish-American tunes. At age ten, he formed a polka band and started his own musical career performing in local clubs, at carnivals, and wedding and anniversary parties. All the while, his grandmother continued to help Richard perfect his Polish lyrics. He became so popular with the locals that he was asked to sing with Chicago polka legends like Eddie Zima and Li’l Wally Jagiello. Besides singing, Li’l Richard was a talented musician, expertly performing the concertina, accordion, drums, and trumpet.
He recorded his first 45 rpm single on the Ampol label at age fourteen. At age eighteen, Richard made his first LP album on the Chicago Polkas label. His radio disc jockey career began at age fifteen hosting a polka music show on WOPA in Oak Park, Illinois.
Both careers as a musician and radio disc jockey were interrupted by military service in the Army where he was assigned to the 2nd Division Band in Korea. Upon Richard’s return from the service, he started where he left off with a polka music show on WTAQ in LaGrange, Illinois. He then expanded to WONX and WEAW in Evanston, WVFW in Dundee, WSBC in Chicago, WCFJ in Chicago Heights, and many other radio stations in the Chicagoland area.
By the late 1960s, Li’l Richard had gained a loyal following of adoring fans and he was proclaimed the “Polka General,” and November 9, 1969 was designated “Li’l Richard Day” by a proclamation from the Mayor of Chicago. Li’l Richard and the Polka All-Stars were regularly featured at popular polka music venues throughout Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Eastern Canada.
Richard made his living as a full-time musician and radio music show host. He recorded a total of 28 albums on four different labels. His best-seller, the “Polish Wedding Album” recorded in 1968, and other recordings are still selling today. After recording his last CD, “Li’l Richard Sings,” he died on March 28, 2001. Li’l Richard was named songwriter of the year in 1977 and 1998 by the United Polka Association and he was inducted in the International Polka Association Polka Hall of Fame in 2005.