February 10, 2008 in Features

He’s the Grammys’ grandpa of oom-pa

Edna Gundersen USA Today
 
Associated Press photo

Jimmy SturrAssociated Press
(Full-size photo)

Rarely a year goes by that Jimmy Sturr doesn’t waltz off with the Grammy for best polka album.

He has won 16 trophies in 20 contests, and is likely to snatch another one tonight for his latest release, “Come Share the Wine.”

While Sturr has accumulated as many Grammys as Paul Simon and Sting, he has hardly had their share of the spotlight.

“That’s a sore spot with me,” Sturr says of polka’s marginalization on a show top-heavy with pop, rock and country stars.

“There’s no reason a band like ours shouldn’t be asked to perform,” he insists. “It’s like they pat us on the head and keep moving.

“I’m not saying we need a whole three minutes, but why not put (polka) and Western swing and Cajun into a medley?”

His beef with the show doesn’t extend to the voters, even when he’s snubbed.

“I get as much or more good publicity when I lose,” he says.

Sturr, 56, is a lifelong bachelor who lives in the heavily Polish hamlet of Florida, N.Y., with his parents (ages 90 and 91) in the house where he was born and raised.

“My mother dusts my Grammys every day,” he says. “I lead a sheltered life.”

And a busy one. He just finished recording his 119th album. He plays 160 concerts a year nationwide. It’s polka 24/7.

Even as a teen, rock and pop never lured him.

“I respect heavy metal, but I’m not a fan,” Sturr says. “I enjoy country because country songs can be adapted to the polka.

“Everyone here loves polka. We have polka weddings, polka parties, polka radio.”

The town of Florida is known for little else.

“Well, we do grow 30 percent of the nation’s onions,” he points out.

Sturr is painfully aware that polka is music’s Rodney Dangerfield. While rock icons rent their images for millions to Nike and Cadillac, Sturr’s tour sponsor is Mrs. T’s Pierogies.

And as pop singers enjoy prime-time visibility, Sturr-crazy fans catch him on cable or satellite on RFD-TV, billed as “a 24-hour television network for rural America.”

“After winning 16 Grammys, anyone else would be on Letterman or Jay Leno,” he says.

“I’ve done something different. I Americanized polka.”

Polka’s cornball reputation hasn’t stopped Willie Nelson, Duane Eddy and Raul Malo from collaborating with Sturr.

Nor has it hurt his box office.

“There are hotbeds of polka all over,” he says. “It’s huge in Texas. I can draw 18,000 people, and 70 percent are 35 and younger.

“We’re like rock stars down there. They go berserk dancing in the aisles.”

So how’s Sturr’s own footwork in 2/4 time?

He demurs: “Next question.”

The birthday bunch

Actor Robert Wagner is 78. Singer Roberta Flack is 71. Singer Jimmy Merchant (Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers) is 68. Country singer Lionel Cartwright is 48. Actress Laura Dern is 41. Country singer Dude Mowrey is 36. Actress Elizabeth Banks (“Scrubs”) is 34. Actress Emma Roberts (“Unfabulous,” “Nancy Drew”) is 17.


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