National Cleveland Style Polka Hall of Fame and Museum
605 East 222nd Street Euclid, OH 44123
Toll Free: 1-800-66POLKA
Louie Bashell, "Milwaukee’s Polka King," carried the banner of Cleveland-Style Polkas
in a remarkable career spanning over seventy years.
Emulating his father, Louie began playing the button box at age seven, followed suit
with the chromatic and piano accordions, and turned pro by age twelve. Demonstrating
a broad gasp of music, Louie composed and arranged "In An Austrian Village" for 60-piece
orchestra while still in high school.
Louie laid the cornerstone of his Cleveland-Style career when he recorded Zidana
Marela, (aka Silk Umbrella Polka) on Pfau Records in the mid-1940s. The tune's instant
popularity in Milwaukee caught the attention of major labels, prompting re-recording
and national distribution with Mercury Records in 1946. Gaining international stature,
Louie Bashell and his Silk Umbrella Orchestra signed with RCA Victor in 1950 and
later recorded for King Records.
With a broad base of Bohemian, German, and American dance music to supplement his
Cleveland-Style repertoire, Louie became a fixture at fairs, festivals, and in major
ballrooms throughout the Midwest. He regularly shared the bandstand and billings
with the likes of Wayne King, Dick Jergens, Sammy Kaye, and Woody Herman. Opting
to remain regional, Louie turned down RCA’s offers to sponsor national tours, although
the band did travel to Austria several times. Louis won a citation from the National
Ballroom Operators Association in 1958 for his extensive, quality work.
Louie’s radio and TV credits include a daily show for WMLO in 1948 and hosting a
call-in request program for WTOS in 1967. Louie’s life and times have been chronicled
nationally, most notably on cable TV’s Celebration Express with David Holt and in
a live interview on Whada Ya Know? With Michael Feldman in 1989.
Louie has been a key part of Wisconsin’s musical landscape with "permanent" engagements
at Milwaukee's Summerfest and the Wisconsin State Fair. Louie, "a legend for old-time,
goodtime (Slovenian) music," was twice featured on the cover of the Milwaukee Sentinel’s
Entertainment section and has been described by the Milwaukee Journal as the most
publicized musician in Milwaukee."
Louie Bashell has won many prestigious honors and engagements including performing
for Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign; at the Smithsonian Institute’s Festival
of American Folklore in 1988; and at the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico
in 1989 where his portrait, entitled, "Slovenian Folk Artist", remains on display.
Louie's greatest honor came in 1987 when he won a National Heritage Fellowship for
ethnic music fom the National Endowment for the Arts. Louie, the "Silk Umbrella Man,"
was inducted into the Wisconsin Polka Hall of Fame in 1997.