WORLD HALL OF FAME
Seventy-five years after he played for a Farmer’s Union meeting with his button accordion at 8 years old, Luverne Wanous is being recognized for his contributions to performing old-time music and being hailed as a hall of famer.
On Tuesday, May 14, Wanous, of Owatonna, will be inducted into the World Concertina Congress Hall of Fame at the Park Ballroom in New Prague. He will join the company of 264 other legend concertina musicians that have been inducted since 1976. He is the first inductee ever from Steele County.
Wanous said never in his wildest dreams did he ever expect to be inducted into the Hall of Fame when he started out playing as a youngster in the 1940s. “It’s a great honor to accept this,” he said. “This is unreal, unexpected and I’m honored to be in a class of musicians like that.”
He recalls his first gig at the Steele Center Town Hall in 1944 when the farm kid got a ride from a neighbor to go perform at the Farmer’s Union meeting. Wanous received 75 cents for playing.
Since his debut in Steele County, Wanous has entertained thousands across the world, mostly in the U.S. for decades. He got his first big start when he performed with Chic Racek at the Steele County Fair in 1952. He has played at the fair every year since then.
When Wanous served in the U.S. Army in 1958, he performed as a one-man band in Germany for 19 months. Upon his discharge in 1960, Wanous came back home and within a week, he began dazzling crowds with his concertina music. And he hasn’t stopped ever since.
In the early 1960s, Wanous formed a seven-piece band that was popular for more than 20 years. The popularity of old-time music has since waned, but that doesn’t keep Wanous from sharing his love of concertina music.
Even at 83 years old, Wanous continues to play as a one-piece band throughout the region. He’s averaging more than 100 shows a year at nursing homes, senior citizen dances, anniversaries and birthdays. One of the more unusual places he has performed was at a quilting bee for women.
Wanous credits his late father for teaching him how to play a push-button accordion. He enjoyed showing off his talents at his one room country school for many years. “Instead of participating in Christmas programs, I played the accordion,” he said.
What may come as a surprise to many people is that Wanous doesn’t have a clue, even to this day, how to read music. Along with some help from his dad, he basically self-taught himself by “playing by ear.”
Though he doesn’t know music, at least how to read it from a sheet, Wanous is comfortable playing more than 325 songs on his own. He keeps a list of them scratched in his handwritten notebook by his side when performing.
Wanous is humbled by this latest honor of the Hall of Fame. “I didn’t do it by myself,” he said. “I did it with the help of others. I can’t take all the credit. There were good players behind me that made me sound good,” he said.
And, Wanous points back to his skill level. “I can’t read a note of music, what am I to brag about,” he says. “I don’t claim to be a concertina jock, and I don’t claim to be the best.”
The Hall of Fame member gets great satisfaction out of entertaining people. “I’ve been blessed to be playing this long for people’s enjoyment,” said Wanous. “I’ve always loved music. It makes me happy,” he added.
When he’s performing, Wanous especially enjoys watching people react to his music. “I enjoy people clapping their hands, tapping their feet and some even get up and dance,” he said. “I enjoy making people have fun.”
Over the years Wanous has battled two cancer scares, but through it all he has continued playing. And, despite his age, he’s not about to stop now. “I’ll go as long as I can play my main squeeze,” he said with a smile.
In addition to many other performances he has booked for this year, Wanous plans to be back at the Steele County Fair once again performing at the entrances of the Four Seasons Centre.