National Cleveland Style Polka Hall of Fame and Museum
605 East 222nd Street Euclid, OH 44123
Toll Free: 1-800-66POLKA
Dusan “Duke” Marsic has had an outstanding career playing saxophone, clarinet andflute,
arranging music, and as a polka bandleader. From jazz bands to big bandto Cleveland-style
polka bands, Duke has played with the best – Joe Howard,Tommy Dorsey, Kenny Bass,
Johnny Vadnal and more.
His HappySlovenians ensemble helped popularize the Alpine style of polka music and
bringit to a wider audience in the United States. The gigs have been all the moreremarkable
because Duke was born in Slovenia. He learned to play the clarinetas a teenager when
the family moved to Ljubljana from his hometown of Kamnik.By 1941, Duke was playing
with the Paul Krupa orchestra. The Marsic family fledthe political regime in Yugoslavia
in 1945, and was stationed in a refugee campin Germany. Fortunately for Duke, uncle
Joe Centa in Cleveland shipped to him aKing tenor saxophone. Duke was able to get
a job playing with the Berry WulfQuartet at the U.S. Army NCO Club, six nights a
The Marsicssettled in Cleveland, in 1949. Within a year, Duke was playing with the
FrankUrankar polka band. His talent was noticed by the legendary Kenny Bass. Dukebecame
a member of the Polka Poppers and recorded with Bass andfellow-musicians Frank Mauer,
Dick Sodja, Bob Pintar, and Whitey Lovsin. He waswith Bass when the band won the
Midwest Polka Champs title in Saginaw, Michiganin 1954. He later joined the Johnny
Duke stillhad a yen to make a mark in jazz and big band music. He moved to Hollywood
toattend the Westlake College of Modern Music. He gained experience there playingin
the College Jazz Quartet and big band and the Hofbrau in Los Angeles. Whenhe moved
back to Cleveland in 1957, Duke had the experience to go on the roadwith the Russ
Carlyle orchestra. This stint was followed by three years on theroad with the Tommy
Dukemarried in 1962 and organized the Duke Marsh Septet. It was at this time, hefirst
heard the recordings of Slovenian musician, Slavko Avsenik. Duke wasinspired to form
a new band featuring the slick, Alpine style. Duke Marsic andthe Happy Slovenians
played together for 27 years.
For 25 of those years, the group was thehouse band at Steve Bencic’s Hofbrau Haus
in Cleveland and his Oktoberfest. Thegroup recorded four albums and played on Polka
Varieties. For 20 years, Dukehad a day job as an instrument tester at King Instruments.
Duke may haveretired from playing in his own band, but he has a full slate of playingengagement
with Stan Mejac, Don Slogar, and the Swingtime Big Band. Throughouthis life Duke
has not forgotten his Slovenian roots. He was first chairclarinet in the United Slovenian
Society band for nearly 20 years, playingalong side his son Marty on clarinet, and
daughter Vera who plays flute. For 12years he has produced the “Strictly Slovenian”
segment on Tony Petkovsek’spolka radio show on WELW-1330AM.
Duke, the family man, is proud of his two grandchildren, and his102-year-old mother.
His most visible role lately is with his wife Mary whenthey dress in their Slovenian
costumes as the official Mr. and Mrs.Oktoberfest, at Six Flags Amusement Park.