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Stephanie Pietrzak remains the queen of Queen City Polka

One of the greatest central European traditions is polka music. The sounds of concertina/accordions, bass, and horns originated in Bohemia during the 1830s, the music and dance made its way to the United States with Polish and Czech immigrants. One of the most rousing and successful U.S. polka artists is Buffalo native Stephanie Pietrzak.

Stephanie has been playing polka music for 47 years. She began playing as a child with her mother Wanda. “My grandmother was originally from Poland, and I remember her singing old Polish songs with my Mother, so that got me interested in the music, and my mom taught me how to play the accordion,” said Stephanie. Though she started on the accordion, after seeing popular polka artist Li’l Wally in concert, she fell in love with the concertina. After learning her new instrument, playing with her mother, the duo became the polka act “Wanda and Stephanie.”

With her Father as their roadie, Stephanie and her mother began touring the country and quickly rose to stardom in the polka community, recording records with Bel-Aire Records. The duo performed the hit songs “Come Back My Johnny Polka” and “Lover, Oh Lover,” which became the number one polka song and won the International Polka Association’s Song of the Year in 1971. Over three decades they would record over twenty albums. The two were nicknamed “America’s Polka Sweethearts.”

Stephanie is famous for playing the “honky polka,” a style characterized by a slower tempo and usually played with a concertina, clarinet, trumpet, drums, and bass guitar, compared to the larger 10-piece ensembles. “Honky style is different from traditional polka music because not too many bands play the honky style. The style comes from Chicago, I compare it to dixieland or jazz music; you get it from the heart. You don’t read the music, you have the feel the music,” said Stephanie.

With the passing of her mother in 1996, Stephanie went into a two year retirement before recording her Tribute to Wanda, I’ll Always Love You album, in honor of her late mother, which became a number one polka album.

Stephanie has been named the International Polka Association’s Best Female Vocalist three times, has several number one songs, has been named to the Polka Music Hall of Fame, and in 1999 along with her mother became the first polka entertainers inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame. She still tours often and can be heard on Dyngus Day, playing live at St. Stanislaus Social Center at 5pm.

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