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Li'l Wally Was Truly the Leader of the Band

Walter E. Jagiello — better known to many as Li'l Wally, the Polka King — helped generations celebrate life with jaunty songs and loveable lyrics. His passing drew notice in newspapers from his native Chicago to his adopted home of Miami.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

We have a death to note this week, and a life that created a lot of joy. Li'l Wally, the Polka King, who was born Walter Jigello, was 76 years old. Music historian Charles Kyle(ph) said, For polka music this is the same as if B.B. King, Allen Wolfe(ph) and Muddy Waters all died on the same day. Li'l Wally was playing polka at weddings, funerals and in bars from the time that he was eight. His hits included Oo-La-La, the classic In Heaven There is No Beer, this song, Milwaukee's Favorite Waltz, and the Chicago White Sox fight song.

He was considered the inventor of Chicago polka, which has some of the slow, rhythmic power of the blues. Li'l Wally and Frankie Yankovic were the first men inducted in the Polka Hall of Fame, and in recent years Li'l Wally became popular all over again with the young hipster crowd along Chicago's Division Street.

Li'l Wally always told his musicians not to bring their sheet music onstage. He wanted them to focus on the audience. Coming up, we roll out the root beer barrel. Stay tuned.

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Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small
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