Much has changed during the six decades Li'l Wally Jagiello has reigned as the World's Polka King--including Li'l Wally. But one thing that's remained the same is the boundless enthusiasm he brings to spreading happiness through his music.
He certainly has plenty of music to share with the world--over 3,000 original compositions and 150 albums. His records have sold millions. In 1956, his song, "I Wish I Was Single Again," was on the Top 40 charts (a rarity for a polka record) and sold some six million copies.
His album, "Polish Feelings," was nominated for a Grammy award in the polka category. Li'l Wally's recordings have earned seventeen Gold Records and four Platinum.
A member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Li'l Wally's greatest hits include: "I Wish I Was Single Again," "Johnnie's Knockin', Seven Days and Seven Nights," "She Likes Kiolbosa," "Take Me Baby," "Chicago Is a Polka Town" and "Li'l Wally Twirl."
Self-taught on the drums and concertina, Li'l Wally has been performing since he was 8-years-old. He'd sneak out his bedroom window nightly to play in the honky tonks that lined a strip along Chicago's Division Street known as "Polish Broadway."
At 16, Li'l Wally started his own record label, Amber Records. A year later, he cut an album for Columbia Records, but the experience made him decide to start another record company, Jay Jay. He became a one-man industry, with his own factory and record store.
To promote his music, he became a radio personality with shows that aired daily, often on several stations. His audiences soon grew too large for polka clubs and he began booking large halls like Chicago's Aragon Ballroom, astounding management by breaking attendance records.
In short, Li'l Wally is synonymous with "polka." Wherever polkas are played, odds are you'll hear at least one of his classic compositions. All of which is why it's not surprising that Li'l Wally was the Polka Hall of Fame's first inductee.
This Polka King has entertained Presidents and Popes. He's even made several guest appearances on the Lawrence Welk Show.
The American Bicentennial Research Institute has recognized Li'l Wally as a "valuable Human Resource of the United States of America" and decreed that he "is entitled to all due honor and respect accorded to outstanding contributors to the growth and development of this American Republic."
Not only is Li'l Wally a world class entertainer, but he's also an entrepreneur. His business interests have included at various times Jay Jay Records, Bonfire Records, Drum-Boy Records, Polkatone, Jay Jay Publishing Co., Walters Music, Specialty Distributing Company, Jagiello Sales, Li'l Wally Music Productions and Gayo Products. He's also president of Li'l Wally Fun Vacations.
After a distinguished career like this, it's easy to understand Don Hedeker's shock when Li'l Wally agreed to play with his polka punk band on the very street where he began his career over 60 years ago.