All the musical instruments we have invented stand out one way or another, and each one brings something unique to the table. Accordions make no exception since they produce sweet and beautifully distinctive sounds, as many skillful accordion players have shown since the first accordion model was built.
This instrument has had its ups and downs, and even if there were decades when other instruments were at the front and center of the music stage, the accordion does seem to gain popularity again since it is a versatile instrument that can be heard in music genres ranging from jazz to classical music. Also, festivals dedicated entirely to accordions have emerged in the last few years.
From the first accordion musicians to the ones we have the chance to see performing today, accordion players have shared the beauty of this instrument using their skills, talent, and personality. To show our gratitude for the way they shaped the world of music, here is a list of the most famous accordion players of all time.
Often considered one of the most appropriate candidates for the best accordion player title, Lawrence Welk enjoyed great success, especially from the 1950s until the beginning of the 1980s. The Lawrence Welk Show aired every Saturday for three decades, and thus his fans could see him and his band engage in countless performances.
His professional activity was not limited only to this show as he also played with several other bands and even had his own orchestra. His achievements include an impressive number of singles, such as ‘Cleanin’ My Rifle (And Dreamin’ Of You)’, ‘Calcutta’, and ‘Cinco Robles’, to name a few.
The way he explored music and this beautiful instrument led to him being considered the creator of ‘Champagne Music’ that Welk described as light and rhythmic.
Every accordion player approaches the instrument in a personal way, but some of them do so in a way that becomes iconic for their performances, and Pietro Frosini was one such accordionist.
He began learning and playing this instrument when he was only six years old, and he was so skillful that he became a part of the Orpheum Vaudeville Circuit when he was twenty. Frosini approached the accordion in novel ways, and his performances included popular music played with classical elements.
Bringing a significant contribution to how this instrument was approached and played, Guido Deiro was a professional accordionist, composer, and teacher. Born September 1, 1886, Deiro became known for his versatile activity in the field of music, as well as for his participation in vaudeville shows.
His appearances on the screen and the radio and many performances have contributed significantly to the accordion’s popularity. His achievements include over 110 songs, countless performances, as well as a successful career as a teacher.
The world of accordions as we know it would not be the same without Nick Ariondo’s contribution. The way he plays the accordion, the many collaborations he has had playing this instrument, and his compositions have brought forth a new level of mastery for which he received various awards.
He won two Grammy Awards while collaborating with the Los Angeles Orchestra, but his achievement list also includes over twenty awards from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. He has performed with famous artists, including Placido Domingo, and he has also impressed through his compositions, such as ‘Stella Notte’.
Any list trying to gather great accordion players includes Myron Floren, an American musician appreciated for his performances as a principal accordion player in Lawrence Welk’s show and his versatile playing style. His audiences could hear him playing different styles and do so skillfully.
He discovered and began studying the accordion when he was only six years old. He would spend several hours daily to explore and get closer to mastering this instrument. His commitment, perseverance, and talent eventually paid off as his performances gathered great interest and appreciation.
There are many ways in which Charles Magnante contributed to this instrument’s development and made it popular. The many NBC radio performances he engaged in and his books on accordion playing methods are some of them.
Moreover, Magnante explored and revealed the versatility of this instrument by playing more mainstream music genres, including jazz and boogie-woogie. With a career spanning over sixty years and an impressive number of releases, Magnante is regarded as one of the most recognizable accordion players.
Two of his many achievements include his performance at the Carnegie Hall, the first one of that type ever, and the Magnante Quartet he started, which was also the first professional accordion chamber quartet.
Many famous accordion songs show the instrument’s energetic personality, but Dick Contino managed to take this one step further and do so successfully. Already an accordion virtuoso at the age of six, Contino gained fame and appreciation for his energetic playing style.
His skills and popularity led to his participation as an accordionist in the Ed Sullivan Show more than thirty times. Besides being a talented and skillful accordionist, Contino was also a clarinet, saxophone, and piano player, which shows his complexity as an artist.
With an impressive list of achievements and a notable impact on how the accordion evolved, Mogens Ellgaard is often referred to as ‘the father of the classical accordion’ and for good reason. Ellgaard began studying the accordion when he was eight years old and dedicated his entire life to discovering the sonic capacities of this instrument.
He commissioned and premiered a great number of works, and he performed as a soloist with several orchestras, such as the Toronto Symphony, London’s Royal Philharmonic, and Detroit Symphony. In 1977, he also became a professor, thus helping students explore and master this beautiful instrument.
Luiz Gonzaga’s performances, talent, and playing style have earned him a top place among the most important Brazilian artists of the 20th century. The way he approached this instrument and played even led to the development of a new genre known as baião.
He discovered and began playing the accordion at an early age, later engaging in performances on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. His performances revolved around popular Brazilian music, and he played famous accordion songs, as well as his own compositions.
An accordion artist whose achievements can only leave us in awe, William Schimmel has revived the accordion’s popularity thanks to his mastery. Schimmel is a complex artist who has not limited his accordion adventures only to playing this instrument.
He is also a composer with a noteworthy list of achievements, including several degrees in compositions, awards, nominations, and over 4,000 compositions. The National Public Radio awarded him the World’s Greatest Accordionist title, and his skills and talent led to several collaborations with major orchestras, such as the Minnesota Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic.
Henry Doktorski III
When it comes to classical accordion music and performers, Henry Doktorski III is an artist this list would be incomplete without. He began studying the instrument when he was 12, and it didn’t take long before he reached mastery, which led to him being regarded as one of the world’s best concert accordionists. His repertoire is extensive, ranging from Henry Mancini to Bach.
From 1995 to 2005, Doktorski performed with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and did so not only as an accordionist but also as a piano, organ, celesta, and harpsichord player. His career also includes many collaborations with other major orchestras, such as the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, Tanglewood Music Festival Orchestra, New Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera Orchestra, to name a few.
The musician took his interest in music beyond performances and also served as Instructor of Accordion at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and on the faculty of The City Music Center at Duquesne University.
Not only one of the most famous female accordion players but also an artist of great complexity and versatility, Loreena McKennitt has enchanted her audiences with her performances. Her music is often labeled as having Middle Eastern and Celtic influences, but it contains aspects of music from various parts of the world and is thus frequently included in the folk section in record stores.
She has impressed audiences worldwide with the various instruments she plays, including the accordion, harp, and piano, as well as with her dramatic soprano vocals that set her apart. Her discography includes several studio and live albums, EPs, singles, and compilations.
She has received many honors and awards, such as the Billboard Music Award for International Achievement and two Juno Awards. With over 14 million records sold worldwide, multiple awards and honors, and several studio and live albums, Loreena McKennitt is an artist worthy of being included in any list of the world’s greatest musicians.
Born May 30, 1932, Pauline Oliveros is not only regarded as one of the best female accordion players in the world but also as an influential figure in the development of post-war electronic and experimental music.
She took her passion for music beyond accordion performances as she was also a teacher, the director of the San Francisco Tape Music Center, as well as the author of several books that focused on new music theories.
The accordion’s versatility has also been beautifully revealed by Lars Hollmer’s talent and mastery. He played a variety of music genres as an accordionist and keyboardist, including progressive rock and Nordic folk music.
He was also a composer, and his achievements as a musician include notable compositions for Swedish film, dance, and theatre productions, several solo albums, and collaborations with artists from different music genres.
Hollmer was the founder of several groups, and in 1999, his record Andetag brought him the Swedish Grammis award, which is often considered the Swedish equivalent of the Grammy Awards.
He stood out not only through his talent and skillful performances but also through his new approaches that included the use of irregular time signatures, complex polyrhythms, as well as his notable sense of improvisation.
With a career that spanned over more than thirty years, Clifton Chenier took this instrument to new realms and explored its capacities in skillful ways that led to his fame, several awards, and multiple achievements.
The accordionist is remembered as the King of Zydeco, thanks to his noteworthy zydeco performances and recordings. Zydeco was a music genre that combined Creole music and Cajun with influences from different genres, such as blues, jazz, and R&B.
Also referred to as the King of the South, Chenier’s talent led to collaborations with great musicians, such as Etta James, Ray Charles, and Lowell Fulson. He received the National Endowment for the Arts award and a Grammy Award for his album I’m Here.
Also, in 2014, Chenier was the recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1989, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and in 2011 into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.
The accordion stage has witnessed many other top performers, such as Vladimir Denissenkov, one of the most famous Russian accordion players, Joel Higuera, Pedro Diaz Pineda, and Gustave Joseph Viseur, just to name a few more.
Plus, artists from other fields have shown their accordion skills. For example, Christina Hendricks has not only enchanted with her appearance and performances as an actress, but she has also played the accordion on Mad Men.
The instrument is relatively easy to maintain since once tuned, it can stay so for many years before re-tuning is required as long as it is stored and handled properly. However, mastering it requires dedication, talent, dexterity, and hard work.
Many accordionists deserve the best accordion player in the world title since each of the famous artists who performed in this field has brought something new to the way we understand and appreciate this instrument and its capacities.