The 50 Best Accordion Players In History

The accordion is one of the most unique and engaging instruments throughout music history. Although there was a season when it had to take the back seat as the guitar gained more popularity, it has made a comeback in recent years as there is nothing like its contribution to the jazz and classical music industry.

By gaining expertise with playing this instrument, various artists and groups have made a name in the musical industry for years. Whether an aspiring accordion player or someone simply interested in history, anyone will find useful the list below of the 50 best accordion players that have graced the world.

Best Accordion Player

1. Lawrence Welk

Welk was one of the wealthiest accordionists all throughout America, mainly because of The Lawrence Welk Show that aired on TV from the 1950s to the 1980s every Saturday night. He was named the creator of Champagne Music because of his playing style. His well-known singles include “Cleanin’ My Rifle (And Dreamin’ Of You)”, “Colorado Sunset”, and “Cinco Robles”.

Laurence Welk was born in Strasburg, North Dakota on March 11, 1903. It is an error not to consider him as the best accordion player in the world. His show, alongside fellow accordionists, did everything to make the accordion popular again.

Runners-up (Ranks 2-20)

2. Myron Floren

Floren is an American musician who shares in Welk’s fame, being the principal accordion player in the latter’s show. He was a self-taught player born in Roslyn, Day County, South Dakota, starting at only six years old. Floren’s versatility allows him to play in a range of styles, from polka to a Bach Cantata. The song “Lady of Spain” has become his trademark.

3. Guido Deiro

Guido Deiro, along with his brother Pietro, was instrumental in making the piano accordion known. He was internationally acclaimed by people, having performed in the United States, Canada, France and Germany in the 1900s. He was the pioneer of accordion performances in the famous Vaudeville Shows. It is an error to consider him as just an accordion player, because he was also a composer, teacher, and businessman. He sold accordions and made them popular via radio and on TV.

4. Nick Ariondo

Ariondo plays not just the accordion but also the piano, and is also an American composer. He bagged two Grammy Awards during his period of collaboration with the Los Angeles Orchestra, and boasts of over 20 awards from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers or ASCAP. His genre of expertise covers jazz, classical, and world music. Among his most famous compositions are “Kalamatiano for viola & free-bass accordion”, and “Stella Notte”.

5. Pietro Frosini

Frosini is an Italian accordion master who was famous in the United States. He was born on August 9, 1885, and owes his mastery of the instrument at having started at the age of six with the chromatic button accordion. He moved to the US at 20 years of age, eventually joining the Orpheum Vaudeville Circuit. In 1932, he worked as a staff accordionist for a New York Radio Station called WOR when many vaudeville businesses closed due to the beginnings of the sound film. He garnered an award from the American Accordionists Association for “Outstanding Ability, Service, and Accomplishment in the Accordion Field”, due to his contribution to the growth of the accordion movement.

6. Charles Magnante

Magnante is the pioneer of his namesake, the Magnante Quartet. It is the first professional accordion chamber quartet in the world. He plays the piano accordion and has incorporated it into mainstream genres of music, even via radio broadcasts of the NBC. One of his greatest achievements have been his accordion performance in the Carnegie Hall, which is a first in accordion playing history. He was both a composer and book author in the accordion arena.

7. William Schimmel

Awarded by the National Public Radio as the World’s Greatest Accordionist, Schimmel has been a mainstay in various orchestra performances, such as the Minnesota Orchestra and Chicago Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, and the Metropolitan and City Operas. He is not just a composer with a track record of over 4,000 compositions, an author, and a music philosopher. His fame is evidenced by sold-out performances even to the modern times. He has created various videos and recordings of his craft, some even being featured in a couple of Hollywood movies.

8. Mogens Ellegaard

Ellegaard is a Danish accordion player, known as the “Father of Classical Accordion”. His journey with the instrument started at eight years old, and evolved towards him becoming a performer in various chamber music concerts, and a soloist with orchestras such as the London’s Royal Philharmonic, Detroit Symphony, and the Toronto Symphony. In the 1970s, he founded a department in The Royal Danish Academy of Music for accordion performances and study, after which he became an accordion professor in just a few years. He released the “Contemporary Danish Accordion Music” CD in 1987.

9. Jeffery Broussard

Broussard was a drop-out at seventh grade, but it is an error to think that this would prevent him from becoming one of the best accordion players in the world. He is not just a zydeco musician, but also a cajun player. One of his rarest and most notable talents is being able to play the button accordion with five fingers, including his thumb. There was also a time when he was able to play every instrument in his band. Hailing from a childhood of farming potatoes, Broussard was self-taught in his musical craft.

10. Luiz Gonzaga

Luiz Gonzaga do Nascimento Sr. is a Brazilian artist, being not just an accordionist but a singer, composer and poet. He started with his musical career at a young age and along Rio de Janeiro, and expanded the reach of the music of Northeastern Brazil to the rest of the country. This made Brazil a country where the world views the accordion as most popular. Gonzaga pioneered a new music genre called baião, and played both popular Brazilian music and his own compositions starting with the 1940s.

Famous Accordion Players (Ranks 11-20)

11. Leonardo “Flaco” Jiménez

A five-time Grammy Award recipient, three of which were attributable to solo work, Jimenez is the most famous Mexican accordion player in the world. He started performing with his father at the young age of seven. He was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999 from Billboard Latin Magazine. In addition to this, he is included in the International Latin Music Hall of Fame and the National Hispanic Hall of Fame.

12. Pietro Deiro

Pietro Deiro is one of the most influential accordion players in history. It is an error to think that his fame is due to his brother Guido, as he has established a name on his own. He plays the diatonic button accordion.

His major contribution to the accordion playing industry is via the Pietro Deiro Publications (formerly known as the Accordion Music Publishing Company or AMPCO), a publishing house in his name sake through which he produced an approximate of 10,000 works.  In 1938, he became the American Accordionists Association’s first ever president.

13. Richard Galliano

Galliano is a French accordion player of Italian descent. Born in December 1950 in South France, he started playing the accordion and piano and a very young age of four. He was invited in 1983 to be the Comédie Française’s bandoneon soloist. He has played with various jazzmen and artists of international renown.

14. Jason Webley

Webley is a singer-songwriter born in Seattle. He plays a number of instruments, which include the accordion, piano, guitar, and a makeshift percussion instrument made with a vodka bottle filled with coins from different places around the world. He performs both on a solo capacity and as part of a band.

15. Yann Tiersen

Tiersen is a composer and musician born on June 23, 1970 in Brittany, France. He plays a wide variety of instruments, ranging from the piano and the guitar to the accordion, xylophone, and melodica. He recorded a major portion his first two albums in his apartment over the summer of 1993, which were composed of over 40 tracks. His most famous work was part of the soundtrack for Amelie, the film.

16. Astor Piazzolla

Piazzolla was an Argentine bandoneon player and tango composer. He was born in 1921 in Mar del Plata, Argentina to Italian parents, yet spent majority of his childhood in NYC. He pioneered the nuevo tango, a new approach to the traditional tango, which initially faced resistance. It included elements of jazz and the use of electric instruments like the electric guitar.

17. Motion Trio

The Motion Trio is an accordion trio composed of Janusz Wojtarowicz, Marcin Galazhyn, and Pawel Baranek. It was formed by Wojtarowicz, in 1996, being the group’s leader and the one composing majority of the music. The band has performed  in forty two countries across six continents, and their album “Pictures From The Street” has received multiple awards. They had a hand at performing original music.

18. Clifton Chenier

Chenier is an American Zydeco accordionist who was born on December 12, 1987.  His work in “I’m Here” has earned him a Grammy award in the year 1983. He was famous as the “King of Zydeco”, a genre rising from Creole and Cajun music, with influences of jazz, rhythm and blues. Appropriately so, he was inducted in the Blues Hall of Fame in 1989.

19. Kimmo Pohjonen

Pohjonen is one of the most in-demand and respected musicians in Finland. The rarity of his music includes improvisation of his instrument and working in the avant-garde genre. His mission to expand the sound, performance, scope, experience and capabilities of the accordion earned him a successful solo career starting 1996. He was tagged as the Folk Musician of years 1996 to 1998 in Finland.

20. Paul McCartney

McCartney earned his international fame as the bassist and co-lead vocalist of The Beatles. He is also a songwriter and producer of both film and record. While the accordion is not his main instrument, it is speculated that he played the instrument as part of Rocky Raccoon, from The Beatles’ White Album in 1968.

Other Accordion Players (Ranks 21-50)

21. Dick Contino

Contino is an American accordion player and singer, who was a staple on the Sullivan Show, appearing as an accordionist for 38 times. He was born in Fresco, California on January 17, 1930. His playing earned him as much as $4000 in a week of performance every night.

22. Chango Spasiuk

Spasiuk is an Argentine accordion player and chamame musician. He was born in Apostoles, Misiones on September 23, 1968. He started playing the accordion at 12 years old, gracing weddings, parties, and other events with his uncle and father. He was famous in Europe among music journalists of the world.

23. Sharon Shannon

Shannon is an Irish musician born on November 12, 1968 in Ireland. She is most famous for her playing of the button accordion, and was the recipient of the 2009 Meteor Awards’ life time achievement award. She was a member of the band The Waterboys for 18 months, before pursuing a remarkable solo musical career.

24. Gus Viseur

Viseur was a Belgian player of the button accordion. He was born on May 15, 1915 in Lessines, Belgium. Commencing his career by playing in Paris’ streets, he helped pioneer the creation of manouche, a jazz-style playing of the accordion. He was the jazz accordionist of Hot Club de France.

25. Guy Klucevsek

Klucevsek is an American composer and accordionist. He was born in New York City and raised in Pennsylvania. A member of Accordion Tribe, he has released a total of around 20 albums either as a leader or as as a co-leader. He is active in free improvisation and jazz. He was awarded the United States Artists Fellow Award in 2010.

26. Kepa Junkera

Junkera is a Basque composer and musician. He was born in Bilbao in 1965. He was a master of the diatonic accordion, called the trikitixa, and has recorded a total of 12 albums. In 2004, his album K was awarded the Best Folk Album in the Latin Grammy Award.

27. Lars Hollmer

Lars Gustav Gabriel Hollmer was a Swedish composer, accordionist and keyboardist. He was born on July 21, 1948 in Östergötland, Sweden. From The Chickenhouse, his own low-tech studio located in Uppsala, he founded or joined more than half a dozen groups. He was a member of the Accordion Tribe and has also played with Japanese jazz players. In 1999, his record Andetag bagged for him a Swedish Grammy award.

28. Buckwheat Zydeco

Stanley Dural, Jr., known for his stage name Buckwheat Zydeco, is an American zydeco musician and accordionist born on November 14, 1947 in Louisiana, United States. The New York Times tagged his band as one of the best in America. USA Today tagged him as a “zydeco trailblazer”, being among the few artists to garner success in the mainstream arena of this genre.

29. Henry Doktorski III

Doktorski III is among the best concert accordionists worldwide. He began playing the instrument at 12 years old. His name is a respected staple in circles dedicated to world classical accordion. His repertoire extends from Henry Mancini and Cole Porter to Piazzolla and Bach.

30. Ksenija Sidorova

Sidorova is an artist with a recording contract exclusive with Deutsche Grammophon, which she signed in 2016. Carmen, her pioneering album, is a recreation of the Carmen for accordion of Georges Bizet. This recreation incorporated the following musical styles: North American, European, Latin and Asian.

31. Igor Rasteryaev

Rasteryaev plays the garmon, a Russian button accordion. He was born in the Soviet Union on August 10, 1980. His music career,  which was on top of him being a movie and theater actor, commenced in the latter part of 2010. It was organically grown through a video he uploaded that trended in Youtube, of him singing in the woods while playing the garmon.  This was shot with a mobile phone. His other successful releases are likewise home-made videos uploaded in Youtube, eventually leading to his first album, “Russkaja doroga” (Russian Road).

32. Quadro Nuevo

Quadro Nuevo is a German quartet (not Spanish, despite the name!), which was formed in 1996. The quartet is composed of Robert Wolf, Mulo Francel, D.D. Lowka, and Andreas Hinterseher. They play flamenco, tango and Valse Musette, and have played at various known festivals. They also performed numerous concert tours in various countries in 2005.

33. Mama!milk

Mama!milk is a duo composed of Yuko Ikoma playing the accordion, and Kosuke Shimizu playing the contrabass. They play acoustic-instrumental music. Mama!milk has been performing around Japan since 1997, being based in the prefecture of Kyoto. They play not just domestically but also internationally, gaining acknowledgment by working and recording with many guest musicians.

34. Maria Kalaniemi

Kalaniemi is a Finnish accordion player born in 1964. Her music is mainly fold, having been a player since childhood. She has been a member of various groups, including The Accordion Tribe. She has also recorded and worked with well-know musicians and singers, and was the special guest in London way back 2004, at the concert with BBC Concert Orchestra and JJP, a Finnish fiddler group.

35. A Hawk and a Hacksaw

A Hawk and a Hacksaw is a band consisting of Heather Trost on the violin (formerly of Foma) and Jeremy Barnes on percussions (formerly of Neutral Milk Hotel). The band comes from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Their music mainly centers on the accordion, hence leaning on the more on the instruments instead of the vocals. On live performances, Jeremy plays percussions such as bells and drums while playing the accordion.

36. Tim Brennan

Brennan is an American vocalist, lead guitarist, and songwriter. He is a member of Dropkick Murphys, a Boston Celtic punk group. He played the accordion on a couple of songs during the Warped Tour of the Dropkick Murphys. He returned to College afterwards, only to be invited back to the band to play full time. He eventually became the lead guitarist, while continuing to play the accordion.

37. Geoff Berner

Berner is a Canadian accordionist and singer-songwriter. He was born on November 26, 1971 in Vancouver, British Columbia. He began his career in music as the accordionist and lead vocalist of Terror of Tiny Town, an eclectic punk band which lasted through two albums in the 1990’s before disbanding due to economical challenges. He then ventured into a solo career and became well-known for klezmer, a music style that is traditional in the Jewish faith.

38. Yuri Lemeshev

Lemeshev is an American accordionist. He was formerly a member of Gogol Bordello, a gypsy punk band. He was born in the Soviet Union in 1954. Contributing to his fame in the East Village of NYC were his performances wearing different wigs and hats. In 2007, he formed a duo with Pamelia Kurstin, a theremin player.

39. Detektivbyrån

Detektivbyrån was formed by Martin Molin and Anders Flanderz Ensamsorkester. Its location was in Gotherburg, and was formed in Karlstad, Sweden. After numerous albums and released, they were official disbanded on August 10, 2010. Molin moved to Wintergatan, another band, while Ensamsorkester pursued playing like a one man band.

40. The Tiger Lillies

The Tiger Lillies is a band composed of three members. It was formed in 1989 and based in London. Its current members are Adrian Stout, Martyn Jacques (singer-songwriter), and Adrian Huge (with Phil Butcher as its past member). They are infamous for their strangely dark humor in their music, with songs involving blasphemy, prostitution and bestiality. Their dark and intense performances have gained for them critical acclaim and controversy.

41. Pauline Oliveros

Oliveros was an American accordionist and composer. She was born on May 30, 1932 and was a great contributor in the post-war electronic art and experimental art music. She founded and was director of the San Francisco Tape Music Center in the 1960s, and founded the Pauline Oliveros Foundation (currently the Deep Listening Institute) in 1985. Her compositions have been considered as classics in the genre of electronic music.

42. John Linnell

Linnell is an American musician who is part of the band They Might Be Giants. He plays the accordion and other instruments, apart from singing and songwriting.

43. Wendy McNeill

McNeill comes from Canada and is currently located in Sweden. She creates her music using the accordion, guitar, and her vocals on loop.

44. Ivan Hajek

Hajek is a Czech composer and accordionist. He was born in 1962 in Prague.

45. Franz Nicolay

Nicolay is an American writer and musician. His musical career is most famous for his play of the piano and the accordion in the The World/Inferno Friendship Society. He founded the Anti-Social Music, which was a performer/composer collective based in NYC.

46. Tin Hat Trio

The Tin Hat Trio was an acoustic chamber group composed of Rob Burger (on the accordion, pump organ, piano, marxophone, and harmonica), Carla Kihlstedt (on vocals, viola, and violin), and Mark Orton (on banjo, dobro, and guitar).

47. James Fearnley

James Fearnley is an English musician. He was born on October 9, 1954 in Worsley. He plays accordion as a member of the punk/folk band The Pogues.

48. Cafe Accordion Orchestra

The Café Accordion Orchestra (CAO) is a group led by Dan Newton (on vocals and accordion). The other members are Brian Barnes (on vocals and guitar), Eric Moheing (on vocals, mandolin, and fiddle), Erik Lillestol (on bass), and Joe Steinger (on percussion).

49. Phil Cunningham

Cunningham is a Scottish composer and folk musician. He is famous for being an accordionist with Silly Wizard and with other bands, and duets with Johnny, his brother.

50. Frode Haltli

Frode Haltli is a Norwegian accordionist. He was born in 1975, and started playing the accordion at seven years old. In 1991, he received the first prize in Norwegian TV’s Talentiaden and won several national competitions and scholarships during his lifetime.

Final Thoughts

The accordion has indeed expanded its reach across different places and even through modern platforms. As evidenced by some of the artists in this list, it is never too late to start learning and pursuing a passion, and even a career, in playing the accordion. Who knows – this might just be the perfect sign for you to start!

2 thoughts on “The 50 Best Accordion Players In History”

  1. OOOPS – You forgot about the Orchestral Accordionist named JOHN SERRY who performed with Jazz ensembles, symphonic orchestras, radio and television orchestras for the CBS Network and orchestras in the Broadway Theatre in the 1930s, 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s .

  2. There is no doubt that Art van Damme and Johnny Meijer are the best accordion players ever. Their jazz improvisations are unequalled. Johnny Meijer was not only a jazz legend but also the best ever in other styles. Lawrence Welk was good but comes nowhere near Art and Johnny and there many others way ahead of him too.

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