Masters of the Craft

Two acclaimed Valley musicians hope to pick up hardware at the Grammys this month

To many, the word “polka” never fails to conjure up images of Steve Urkel, the über-geeky character in the 1990s sitcom Family Matters, decked out in suspenders and knee socks, an accordion hanging from his neck, and a ridiculous hat — adorned with the music’s namesake dots — on his head. But polka is no laughing matter for Hudson Valley resident Jimmy Sturr, who looks to pick up his 18th Grammy award on February 8 with his recording Let the Whole World Sing, a “Best Polka Album” nominee.

If Sturr — who plays the trumpet, clarinet, and saxophone — wins, he’ll add to his already impressive collection of accolades, which includes Broadcast Music Inc.’s only Commendation of Excellence for a polka artist. Why, his name was even used as the answer to “Who is America’s Polka King?” on the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? More importantly, Sturr has done his part to help polka shed its frumpy, borscht-stained image: He has covered songs by rock-and-roller Frankie Ford and bluegrass fiddler Alison Krauss, and collaborated with artists Charlie Daniels and Willie Nelson.

Despite his commercial success, Sturr has remained in the region where, at age 11, he got his musical start by playing at weddings and PTA meetings. He continues to inhabit the Florida, Orange County home in which he grew up, and for good reason: His Irish-American family has no cultural ties to Eastern Europe, but Sturr credits his love of polka to the Polish immigrants who brought their music to high school dances and weddings in his hometown.

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Another successful musician who draws his inspiration from the Hudson Valley hopes to go home with a golden phonograph on the 8th. Pete Seeger, the legendary folk singer and environmentalist, is up for a Grammy in the “Best Traditional Folk Album” category for his recent release, At 89. The Beacon resident’s love for the environment and his Valley roots are highlighted in the record, which features collaborations with various local artists on both classic and recently composed songs. Several tracks, such as “The Water is Wide” and “Throw Away that Shad Net,” reference specific features of the Valley alongside reflections on nearly nine decades of life and activism.

Catch Sturr in Poughkeepsie at the Polish Club (March 29) and the Elks Lodge (April 18); and at the Polka Weekend in Kerhonkson (April 25 & 26). Visit for more information.


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