The Accordion has been a staple in folk music for centuries. The curious instrument is known for its versatility and complex sound, but despite its popularity it is often overlooked or thought of as outdated. When thinking of the Accordion, most people might think of street musicians on the sidewalks of European cities, but it’s also been performed by virtuoso musicians on primetime T.V, concert halls and venues all over the world.
In this blog post, we’ll take a look at 15 famous accordion players from around the world that you should know about and explore their lives and music.
1. Lawrence Welk (1903-1992)
Lawrence Welk was one of nine children raised on his parents’ Strasburg, North Dakota farm.
His parents only spoke German, and Welk didn’t begin speaking the English language until young adulthood.
After leaving school during his fourth-grade year, the future accordion player decided he wanted a music career.
Welk took accordion lessons from his father and worked on his family’s farm until he turned twenty-one.
He went on to earn a music degree and achieved some fame as the leading member of a traveling orchestra.
Welk eventually became the star of The Lawrence Welk Show, which ran on ABC from 1955 to 1971 where he would often play accordion duets with Myron Floren who we’ll look at next.
2. Myron Floren (1919-2013)
Myron Floren became intrigued by the accordion at age six when, at his family’s South Dakota farm in Day County, he’d watch a neighbor play the instrument on Saturday evenings.
Saturdays were when families from neighboring farms got together for entertainment and socialization.
Floren attended college in Sioux Falls, majoring in English and minoring in music.
During his collegiate years, he was an accordion teacher at a local music shop and also gave small performances.
Floren ended up starring on The Lawrence Welk Show after years of performing as a member of a country music band.
His contributions to the music world also included several original polka compositions.
3. Loreena McKennitt (1957-)
Loreena McKennitt has logged an impressive amount of album recordings in her name, including a collection of Christmas music.
Besides being an accomplished accordion player, she is a singer and songwriter based in Canada.
McKennitt’s sounds are known for their folk and Celtic influences, later combined with Spanish and Arabic themes.
Early in her career, she studied classical piano and dance.
Her 1989 album, Parallel Dreams, was released through a network of independent distributors where it sold 40,000 copies in only four months.
McKennitt’s latest album was released in 2018.
4. Bruce Hornsby (1954-)
Multi instrumentalist Bruce Hornsby hails from Williamsburg, West Virginia, later attending the University of Miami’s Berklee School of Music.
After moving to Los Angeles, he signed an RCA record deal in 1985.
Hornsby and his band, The Range, became household names with hits like “Mandolin Rain” and “That’s Just the Way It Is” and they became Grammy Award winners in 1986.
He would often join American rock band the Grateful Dead as a special guest at thier shows and play accordion and recorded the instrument on a number of albums too.
He released a solo album in 2020, entitled “Non-Secure Connection.”
5. Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016)
Pauline Oliveros first became acquainted with the accordion at ten years of age.
Her mother showed her how to play it, and Oliveros continued this tradition, even though she went on to play other instruments.
Oliveros became a composer and is credited with the invention of the musical technique of deep listening.
Oliveros’s career included teaching at the University of California, San Diego.
She also performed and composed several pieces of music, in addition to writing multiple books about music theory.
6. Daniel Handler (1970-)
Daniel Handler is known as a musician, but he’s more famously recognized as an author under the alias of Lemony Snicket.
One of his most well-recognized works is “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” which is a thirteen-book series, his adaptations have gone on to become major films and a 2017-2019 series on the streaming platform Netflix.
After learning the piano, he wanted to join a band picked up the accordion to have a portable version of it that he could take around and impress women.
He would often take his accordion on his book signing tours and even wrote and performed songs about characters in his books.
7. Clifton Chenier (1925-1987)
Clifton Chenier was known for his southern blues sound and was considered to be highly accomplished at playing the accordion.
He learned how to play the accordion from his father, who bought the artist his first accordion.
Chenier became a player of zydeco music around Louisiana and transitioned to incorporating R&B influences into his pieces.
While he drifted out of the spotlight for a while, Arhoolie Records was responsible for bringing his music back to listeners interested in local, traditional sounds.
His albums saw some success in the early to mid-1970s.
8. Dick Contino (1930-2017)
Similar to his peers, Richard “Dick” Joseph Contino from Fresno, California, learned to play the accordion as a young child.
Contino entered several music competitions in his youth, winning some prizes and local recognition for his movie star looks and impressive accordion skills.
From 1948 to 1951, Contino played professionally under a recording contract and it’s reported that he earned $4,000 for each performance.
In 1951, Contino released a full album under the RCA label however, this would be his one and only release.
Following his music career, Contino went on to star in movies where he acted in four different movies before returning to his hometown of Fresno.
9. David Hidalgo (1954-)
Singer, songwriter and talented multi instrumentalist David Hidalgo was born in Los Angeles and performed with the famous band Los Lobos.
Hidalgo regularly plays the guitar and the accordion for other performers who put together studio albums.
David also performs as a member of the Latin Playboys and the Los Super Seven and is a founding member of the band Houndog.
Hidalgo is a regular performer at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival, and his songs have been performed as covers by the Jerry Garcia Band.
10. Luiz Gonzaga (1912-1989)
Gonzaga lived and performed in Brazil, becoming famous for his accordion-playing skills.
The musician was born in Caicara, which was known for its farming.
Luiz did not attend school for most of his young life since he worked in the fields.
However, many people in his local area saw him as a prodigy due to his skills with the accordion.
Luiz did serve in the army, which led to a brief pause in his pursuit of music.
He ended up recording a dance single inspired by an African-American dance routine.
Gonzaga’s music was mainly popular among Brazilians through the 1950s.
11. Boozoo Chavis (1930-2001)
Boozoo Chavis was an accordion player and musician from south Louisiana.
He was born with the name of Wilson Anthony and was known for his mix of Cajun and blues sounds.
Chavis was another zydeco trailblazer, releasing a 1954 single in the musical style.
The single was titled “Paper in My Shoes.”
Boozoo was a childhood nickname the musician adopted, and he taught himself to play the accordion.
He gained popularity by playing at barn dances and local dance clubs.
Chavis ended up passing away from the effects of a heart attack in 2001.
12. Ksenija Sidorova (1988-)
Throughout her career, Ksenija Sidorova has maintained the goal of getting the music industry and community to recognize the accordion as a classical instrument.
Her grandmother, who had an affinity for folk tunes, motivated Ksenija to take up music.
Earning a master’s degree from London’s Royal Academy of Music, Sidorova started performing and winning awards in 2009.
She has performed in concert series throughout the U.S. and Europe and has been on several television shows in Europe.
Her music is heavily influenced by the classical composers Mozart and Bach.
However, she also exhibits a contemporary style.
13. Art van Damme (1920-2010)
Art van Damme started playing the accordion at nine years old and received classical music training as a youngster.
During his teenage years, he took up jazz music and eventually played the accordion for Ben Bernie’s band.
From the mid-1940s to the early 1960s, Art van Damme could be seen on NBC shows, such as ‘The Dinah Shore Show.’
He was also the star of the radio show, ‘The Art van Damme Show’ on NBC.
His music ended up influencing other jazz musicians who played the accordion.
14. Nick Ariondo
Nick Ariondo’s origins as a musician started in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
He composes and arranges music and plays the accordion and the piano.
Ariondo is the recipient of twenty-five ASCAP awards and has performed with legends such as Placido Domingo.
As an artist, he has also won double Grammys for his work with the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra.
Ariondo first began playing the accordion at seven years old.
He and his brother began performing together at local events and shows.
Nick embraces a wide range of musical styles, including jazz, contemporary, and gypsy.
He’s also won fellowships and grants for his artistic work.
15. Cory Pesaturo (1986-)
Cory Pesaturo has won the titles of World Digital Accordion Champion and World Acoustic Accordion Champion.
He graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and has been described as having visionary thinking.
Pesaturo is already developing an electric version of the accordion.
Cory has performed for former president Bill Clinton on four different occasions; all of them at the White House.
He has also played for other world figures and in high-profile concerts.
He did much of this during his adolescence and early teen years.
Pesaturo has recorded a few albums with jazz legends like George Garzone.
Summing up our list of the Greatest Accordion Players
It’s a common misconception that accordions are just for polka music when in reality, the accordion is a versatile instrument that can be used in many different genres of music including classical, jazz, and folk.
We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about some of these great accordion players but there are lots more that aren’t on our list that deserve recognition.
We’ll be adding to this list so let us know who we should include next.