Larry Chesky

Larry Chesky, born Lawrence J. Ciszewski, (November 17, 1933 – January 25, 2011, Holyoke, MA) was an American accordion player, Polka band leader, inductee in the International Polka Hall of Fame, and manager of the Rex Records label.[2]

Larry Chesky
Larry Chesky.jpg
Lawrence J. Ciszewski

(1933-11-17)November 17, 1933
DiedJanuary 25, 2011(2011-01-25) (aged 77)
OccupationSinger, band leader, producer
AwardsInducted into International Polka Association Hall of Fame, 1985
Musical career
Years active1946–2011
  • Musico
  • Stella
  • Rex
  • Tifton
Associated acts
  • The Polka Dots
  • Larry Chesky and His Orchestra
  • Regina Kujawa

Early life and careerEdit

Chesky would take up the accordion first at the age of six and organized his first Polka band by the age of 13, debuting at the Cavalier Restaurant in Chicopee as "The Polka Dots". After graduating from Holyoke High School, he attended the Hartt School of Music.[3][4] In the mid-1950s Chesky signed with the Musico Recording Company, forming the Larry Chesky Orchestra, with one of his best-known early hits being "Our Gang Oberek", created in 1956.[3][5] Among Chesky's early influences was Ray Henry and his orchestra, an earlier pioneer of the Big Band Eastern style from Connecticut, who Chesky and his band would later perform with at Mountain Park.[6][7][8] Chesky and his orchestra would remain a fixture at the amusement park when not touring or recording, starting regular performances there before 1955; he would perform there weekly with a number of other musicians for more than 30 years, until the park's closure in 1987.[4][9]

Chesky would spend much of his early career touring the Eastern Polka circuit from New York to Chicago, and was inducted into the International Polka Association Hall of Fame in 1985, having recorded over 100 albums.[10] He was a proponent of the "Big Band" or "Eastern" style of Polka, which features more band members (greater than ten), and a focus on horn and reed instruments, than the typical Polka band. Over the years he and his band would backup a number of headliners, including singers Barbara Mandrell, Bobby Vinton, and James Darren.[4]

In 1974 Chesky would launch Modern Mail International, a catalog business selling Polish heritage novelties. By the 1990s he had largely retired from his record business, continuing to tour with Polka festivals across the country selling memorabilia.[11][12] He remained active in Freemasons, particularly as a Shriner.[1] He and his orchestra continued to perform with some regularity into the 2000s.[13] One of his last public appearances was as a guest of a "polkathon" on UMass Amherst's WMUA in October 2010. Chesky died of heart failure at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, on January 25, 2011 at the age of 77.[2][3]

Influence and legacyEdit

Jimmy Sturr, the 18 time Grammy Award Winner for Best Polka Album, said of him: "He was one of my idols. I grew up on him...I modeled my band after his Eastern style."[2] Lenny Gomulka, the twelve time Polka Grammy Nominee, said that Larry Chesky was a "pioneer who changed and enhanced the image of polka to the Big Band sound."[2] Describing the origins of Tex-Mex/ska polka band Brave Combo, cofounder Carl Finch cited Chesky's sound as influential in the Grammy Award Winning band's early search for a style they felt still represented the music of "the common people", in an increasingly corporate cultural landscape.[14]

Orchestra membersEdit

Instrumentalists featured:[15]

  • Larry Chesky (accordion)
  • Regina Kujawa (accordion)
  • Chet Dragon (trumpet)
  • Bob Skibinski (trumpet)
  • Stan Malek (trumpet)
  • Ken Morey (trumpet)
  • Richie Pezda (clarinet)
  • Bill Wezesien (clarinet)
  • Don Szczebak (clarinet)
  • Walt Wagner (clarinet)
  • Dan Murphy (clarinet)
  • Bill Kosewski (piano)
  • Ronnie Pezda (drums)
  • Eddie Poudier (drums)
  • Walt Jordan (bass)
  • "Papa Joe" Chesky (bass)

Vocalists featured:[15]

  • Larry Chesky
  • Regina Kujawa
  • Andy Szuberla
  • Gene Wiśniewski
  • "Papa Joe" Chesky
  • Chet Dragon

Selected discographyEdit

Year Title Label
Polish Party TS74
Polish House Party TS79
Polish Party TS81
Castscok REX 478
Polka Wonderland REX 653
1959 Polkarama REX 654
Polka Style Hits REX 660
Polka Hits REX 668
Broadway Hits: Polka Style REX 669
Polka Favorites REX 678
1963 Polkatively Yours REX 679
Great Polkas REX 699
Big Band Polkas REX 700
Polkas for the Girls REX 725
Polka REX 736
Larry Chesky and His Orchestra with Regina Kujawa Singing REX 754
Live At The Big E REX 758
The Polka Dolls Plus One (with Greg and Colleen) REX 803


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ a b c d Kelly, Ray (2011-01-26). "Polka great Larry Chesky dead at 77". Retrieved 2014-09-22. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ a b c "Polka World Loses Larry Chesky" (PDF). Polish American Journal. Boston, NY. March 2011. p. 11.
  4. ^ a b c Christman, Kelly (September 18, 1985). "Holyoke native Larry Chesky named to Polka Hall of Fame". Springfield Union. Springfield, Mass. p. 5. After his graduation from Holyoke High School, Chesky attended Hart School of Music
  5. ^ Catalog of Copyright Entries: Third Series; Unpublished Music January-June 1956. X. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress. 1957. p. 600. OUR GANG OBEREK: m Larry Chesky arr Bernie Witkowski © Stella Music Co. Inc. 9Jul56 EU443083
  6. ^ "Ray Henry, Living Category, Inducted 1972". International Polka Hall of Fame. Chicago: International Polka Association.
  7. ^ "[Advertisement] Mountain Park". Springfield Union. Springfield, Mass. September 30, 1955. Tuesday- Battle of Music - Larry Chesky, Ray Henry plus Regina Kujawa
  8. ^ Dennis Polisky, Larry Chesky (March 12, 2010). The Fifth Annual IPA Benefit Dance, Ludlow PACC, Ludlow, Massachusetts. Thomas Zimnowski. Archived from the original on June 9, 2020 – via YouTube.
  9. ^ Ducharme, Jay (2008). Mountain Park. Arcadia Publishing. p. 96. He was called the king of the mountain. Every Sunday for decades, Holyoke resident Larry Chesky and his band ruled the pavilion stage.
  10. ^ International Polka Association Editorial Staff. "Larry Chesky – Living Category – Inducted 1985". International Polka Association. International Polka Association. Retrieved 2014-09-22. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  11. ^ Sears, Jacqueline (2015). Legendary Locals of Holyoke. Arcadia Publishing. p. 118.
  12. ^ Morrell, Alan (June 29, 1992). "Irondequoit rolls out the polka party". Democrat and Chronicle. Rochester, N. Y. p. 63.
  13. ^ "Free Range Steve Hummer". The Atlanta Constitution. Atlanta, Ga. p. H2.
  14. ^ Prince, David (September 8, 1995). "Brave Combo's polkas are 90 percent serious; It's 'a beat, a dancing drug'". The Santa Fe New Mexican. Santa Fe, N.M. p. 59. 'Rock had been removed from the common people' he said 'and musically I wanted what I do to have depth, I started listening to polka and ethnic records I'd find at Target six for $5 — nothing could beat that. At first I’d just buy whatever covers looked strangest but after a while I’d do research and find out what was good.' Among the best he soon discovered were names like Larry Chesky and his big band polka sound, Norwegian accordian virtuoso Andrew Walter (“exciting intense” is Finch’s assessment), and Eddie Blazonczyk, the “Godfather” of Chicago’s Polish community. 'All this came out of a sense of desperation'.
  15. ^ a b "[Liner notes] Larry Chesky and His Orchestra - Polka Favorites". Discogs.

External linksEdit

External video
  Larry Chesky Inducted into International Polka Hall of Fame, with Staasi Heropoulos, WWLP TV 22 News (1985)
  "Larry Chesky Interview Excerpts 'Prime Time'", with George Dorunda (1989)