The accordion is seeing a resurgence after several decades of decline.
It was big before the Second World War and was more liberally used in a lot of musical performances around the world.
Its descent to obscurity began shortly after the war and tapered through the decades.
Today, many still associate it with traditional folk music from the Old World.
Judging by the swelling interest in this polyphonic instrument in recent years, it’s clear the accordion still speaks to the hearts of many.
In some countries, it’s still a ubiquitous household musical instrument.
Today, the accordion genre has its own festivals and it is also used liberally in jazz and classical music performances.
Through its journey from the heights of popularity to relative obscurity in the past few decades, the accordion has had some really accomplished players.
In the age of electronic music, electric pianos and guitars, it is easy to forget that we have had seen some really talented and passionate accordionists who mastered the art of pulling and pressing this versatile instrument to create its sweet and distinctive music.
Here is a look at some of the most famous accordion players in the world.
#1 Lawrence Welk
The accordion story in the 20th century is never complete without a mention of Lawrence Welk.
He was an iconic American musician and accordionist who among other engagements, was also a musician and a TV impresario.
His The Lawrence Welk Show lasted three decades from 1951 to 1982.
He popularized his art thanks to his massive audiences in television, radio as well as in live performances.
He released several singles between 1938 and 1970 including the chart-topping Calcutta (1960), Colorado Sunset (1938), Annabelle (1939), Don’t Sweetheart Me (1944), Oh Happy Day (1953), Bonnie Blue Gal (1955) and Green Tambourine (1968) among others.
#2 Nick Ariondo
American accordionist, pianist, and composer Nick Ariondo has had a stellar career as an accordionist.
As part of the Los Angeles Opera, he won the Grammy Award twice. He also worked with Paul McCartney.
He’s an accordionist-composer who has bagged multiple awards. He performs jazz, classical music, and world music.
His discography is extensive and covers more than two decades of work.
He’s also done multiple accordion compositions including Stella Note, Arabesque, Kalamatiano for viola and several others.
#3 Myron Floren
The legendary American accordionist Myron Floren had a career spanning more than 5 decades.
He was the principal accordionist in the Lawrence Welk Show which also made him a household name.
He formed his own orchestra that often played at the Welk Show and continued performing even after the show went off-air.
He was a versatile accordionist who could play multiple styles including a Bach cantata and polka.
#4 Guido Deiro
Guido Deiro and his younger brother Pietro were the earliest proponents of the piano-accordion and did much work to popularize the piano-accordion in multiple circuits including on-screen, radio, records and vaudeville even before music schools were a thing.
He performed in Germany and France before making his way to the U.S. in 1909.
He was a great sensation in the vaudeville circuit in both the U.S. and Canada.
Apart from his work in the classical and operatic fair, he also created his own compositions.
In the 1930s, he also dabbled in business, opening several accordion studios while also teaching and selling accordions.
#5 Pietro Frosini
Born in Sicily, Pietro Frosini began playing the accordion at the age of 6.
He emigrated to the U.S. at the age of 20 where he joined the vibrant vaudeville circuit.
His first accordion recording was in 1907 and he toured the world extensively, performing in various circuits and for dignitaries.
He met Guido Deira in the vaudeville and they became good friends and professional acquaintances. He later adapted some of Deiro’s methods for his audiences.
In 1932, he left the vaudeville and took a job as a staff accordionist at New York’s WOR radio.
#6 Mogens Ellegaard
Danish accordionist Mogens Ellgaard is often described as “father of the classical accordion”.
Mogens has commissioned and premiered several accordion works over the past four decades.
He also performed in chamber music and solo recitals throughout the world.
He has been a soloist with several European orchestras and has also worked as an accordion professor.
He has conducted multiple master class seminars and courses across Europe. His Contemporary Danish Accordion Music CD was released in 1987.
#7 Charles Magnante
The American piano-accordionist and composer Charles Magnante has a musical career that spanned six decades.
He raised the profile of the accordion into an instrument that could be used in the mainstream music genres.
He started singing with his father and learned to play the accordion at a very young age. By the age of 16, he was already a reputed accordionist who received lots of invitations to perform at various events.
He began his career by performing the accordion at Italian restaurants but soon broke out into the mainstream and started playing at the NBC radio broadcasts.
Magnante also authored several accordion method books as well as various arrangements of some of the popular contemporary standards.
He composed the popular Accordiana and his work spanned multiple genres including jazz, light classical pieces, and boogie-woogie.
Magnante has an extensive discography with several solo releases over several decades.
#8 Luiz Gonzaga
Luiz Gonzaga was one of the most influential Brazilian musicians and accordionists in the 20th century.
He introduced the rich musical genres of Northeastern Brazil to the rest of the country.
Gonzaga learned the accordion at an early age and started by performing in bars and the streets of Rio de Janeiro.
He specialized in the popular Brazilian music including xaxados, cocos, chamegos and baiões.
He played some of the popular Brazilian tunes on the accordion but also began playing his own work around the 1940s.
#9 William Schimmel
William Schimmel is one of the most influential contemporary accordionists.
He has been a key figure in the resurgence of the accordion in recent years.
He still delivers accordion performances to sold-out audiences. He is a virtuoso accordionist and also a composer and a music philosopher.
Schimmel works in multiple genres and has also commissioned and premiered a large body of work over his career.
To date, Schimmel has composed more than 4000 works covering all kinds of genres.
He has created several recordings and videos of his work and some of his work has even been featured in various Hollywood movies.
#10 Clifton Chenier
Clifton Chenier’s career as an accordionist lasted more than three decades.
His beginnings were influenced by the Cajun, jazz, Creole music and the blues in Louisiana. In 1983, he won a Grammy for his work with the accordion.
He began performing in 1954 but his career and popularity peaked during the 1980s.
He left behind a rich legacy, particularly in the zydeco tradition.
Trying to learn accordion and need some inspiration?
Studying in music school and need to know the classics?
I sure hope this list has helped you learn (or remember) a thing or two about the classic accordion players who left their footprints on the sands of time – and so can you!