Entertainment

Why Junos elude Canada's Polka King

As Canada celebrates its brightest music stars during the week of the Juno Awards, there's one name that's curiously absent — Polka King Walter Ostanek.
Walter Ostanek has been playing weddings and Oktoberfests for 50 years and recorded 62 albums. (CBC)

As Canada celebrates its brightest music stars during the week of the Juno Awards, there's one name that's curiously absent — Polka King Walter Ostanek.

St. Catharines, Ont. -based Ostanek is a three-time Grammy winner and a member of the Order of Canada, but he's never won a Juno Award.

And once again the annual celebration of the best in Canadian music has overlooked the man who's been playing the accordion at weddings, family reunions and Oktoberfests for more than 50 years.

But Ostanek isn't worried about being passed over for Juno glory.

"I'd be more than happy to receive one if they ever give me one, but I will not be negative about anything if I don't get one," he told CBC News.

"The thing is, No. 1, I love what I do. I love people, I love playing and it keeps me young, you know! That's the bottom line," he said.

The reason he's never won a Juno is simple — there aren't enough polka performers in Canada to warrant a separate category.

Ostanek, a member of the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, said he and a polka-playing friend approached Juno organizers years ago about creating one, but couldn't get enough support for a polka category.

"I had another friend of mine from Kitchener was with me, and if you can get anywhere from 10 to 12 or 14 bands from Canada that would record an album every year, they'd put in the category. Well, I couldn't get five," he said.

Ostanek was once a Juno presenter, in 1994. And although he's been nominated for 16 Grammy Awards, the Grammys eliminated its polka category in 2009.

Taron Cochrane from Regina said the Junos should honour Ostanek with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

"If you met Walter Ostanek or seen him live in concert, the man always smiles so he should receive Juno for personality alone. But in the music aspect, he's gone through a career with no managers and no production — just one guy who played polka and entertained," Cochrane said.

He also made at least 62 recordings.

Cochrane, who was introduced to Ostanek's music by his grandmother, even started a Facebook group to lobby the Junos to honour the king of polka.

Ostanek says he's happy with the support of his fans, who are all ages.

"I go out to Western Canada to Saskatchewan and to Winnipeg, Manitoba, that area, and it's, you know, 60 and over," he said.

"But during the Oktoberfest in Kitchener — it's our 33rd year there — we have the university crowd. We get like 2,400 university students every night, and they love it. I'm Uncle Walter and they're my family and it goes on year after year and I sign a bunch of autographs and they're happy, I'm happy, we're happy, everybody's happy!"

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