Hall of Fame – 2020
Walter (Li’l Wally) Jagiello (1930-2006) was born in Chicago, Illinois on August 1, 1930. Known as Mały Władziu or Li’l Wally, he was one of the most important and influential polka musicians in America. He was responsible for creating the Chicago-style polka, a slower, more danceable, and more improvisational sound, whose core appeal lay with Polish-Americans.
Wally was a cottage industry unto himself, recording at an often frantic pace and releasing over 150 albums on his own Jay-Jay label. He played both concertina and drums in concert and performed good-humored dance tunes and sentimental ballads with the same unwavering enthusiasm. Wally and Frankie Yankovic became the first inductees into the Polka Music Hall of Fame.
A self-taught drummer and concertina player, he started playing with Chicago polka godfather Eddie Zima at the age of ten and was leading his own band at 14. His first recording session came in 1946 for his own small Amber Records label, at which point he was still singing entirely in Polish. In 1949, Wally recorded eight songs for Columbia Records. Dissatisfied with the experience, he launched Jay-Jay Records in 1951 and unleashed a torrent of music. During the 1950s, he often managed to turn out ten or more LPs a year.
During the 1960s, Li’l Wally appeared three times on The Lawrence Welk Show and continued touring and playing in the 1970s, 80s and 90s in the U.S. He died on August 17, 2006, in Miami, Florida, at age 76.