Del Sinchak, Valley’s Longtime Polka King, Will Take a Final Bow
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Del Sinchak estimates he has played at least 4,000 gigs in his career, although the number could be higher.
He’ll play just one more.
The Youngstown accordionist and polka legend will give his final performance on New Year’s Eve at Penguin City Brewing, downtown.
It may seem hard to believe, but after 74 years of making music, the 88-year-old Sinchak is retiring.
“The time has come,” he said.
Sinchak also played at Penguin City last New Year’s Eve. The brewery booked his return engagement months ago – well before Sinchak decided to retire.
“When I decided I was going to retire, I thought, ‘Why not do my last gig in Youngstown on New Year’s Eve,’” he said. “Plus, it’s so big inside Penguin City.” The brewery’s taproom can accommodate around 500 people, which will likely be necessary given the number of people who will want to be there.
After announcing his retirement earlier this week, Sinchak said he got text messages from about a hundred people saying, “See you on New Year’s Eve.” He has no other gigs scheduled before then.
“Last year was a fun night, and that’s why [Penguin City] booked us again,” Sinchak said.
Aspasia Lyras-Bernacki, co-owner of Penguin City, had no idea the show would be Sinchak’s last when she booked it, but she feels fortunate.
“I can’t believe Del’s last show will be at our place,” she said. “It will be a very historic moment in Youngstown.”
Lyras-Bernacki is preparing for a big crowd.
“We are going to make sure everyone gets to see Del. If it outgrows the taproom, we’ll move it in the Pollock Ballroom.”
The Pollock Ballroom is at the rear of Penguin City’s building.
Tickets will cost $15. An optional ticket package that includes the concert and dinner is available for $50. For tickets, click HERE.
Sinchak and his band will perform from 7 to 10 p.m.
Gary Rhamy, owner of Peppermint Records, has expressed interest in recording the show and releasing it as an album. Penguin City is a cavernous building, but Rhamy said he would record from stage microphones to eliminate echo and other sound distortion.
Sinchak said he reached his decision to retire in the past few weeks.
“I’m getting older,” he said. “I’m having trouble lifting the accordion and its case into my car, and my fingers are not as flexible as they used to be. So I felt maybe it was time to end it. A lot of times I forget the words and will make up my own words. The guys in the band get a laugh.”
He formed his first band in 1949 when he was in eighth grade.
In the early part of his career, he fronted a rock band. “During the rock era we played seven nights a week,” he said.
Sinchak recalls touring with another famed Youngstown band, The Edsels, who had a hit in 1961 with “Rama Lama Ding Dong.” The song became a doo-wop mainstay.
“We toured with The Edsels and played almost every night for a few months,” he said.
After switching to polka, Sinchak rose to new heights.
He was nominated twice for a Grammy Award in the polka category. The first time was in 1999 for his album “Let the Sun Shine In.” He was nominated again in 2006 for his “Polka Pizzazz” album.
He wrote many polka tunes, the most well-known being “Roseann,” which became a standard for many Cleveland-style polka bands. He recorded at least eight albums at Youngstown’s Peppermint Studios, where he still works.
Sinchak also hosted polka shows on WKTX out of Cortland and led polka tours to Las Vegas, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Branson, Missouri, and other cities. He also played countless shows at dances, festivals and other events in the Mahoning Valley and surrounding region.
The National Cleveland-style Polka Hall of Fame bestowed its Band of the Year award on Sinchak in 1996 and 1997.
Sinchak has devoted much of his life to helping Valley musicians through his work with the American Federation of Musicians Youngstown local.
He served as president of the union local for 35 years, retiring last year. Before that, he served as its vice president for 25 years.
“I put a lot of my life into that local, but it was just as good to me,” he said in an interview earlier this year.
Rex Taneri, another longtime Valley bandleader, succeeded Sinchak as president of the local. To ease the transition, Sinchak stopped in at AFM headquarters once a week to share his know-how. He remains a member of the union’s board of directors.
Taneri, who has referred to Sinchak as “my friend and mentor,” said – in keeping with Sinchak’s wishes – the union is not planning a ceremonial event to mark his retirement. “The music community will turn out to see Del’s final performance” at Penguin City, he said.
Pictured at top: Youngstown accordionist and polka legend Del Sinchak.
Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.