Son vows to 'keep the music alive' in late Sask. polka star's honour

·2 min read
Vlad Panio of The Panio Brothers Band died of cancer at the age of 75 on July 9, leaving behind a Saskatchewan polka legacy. (Submitted by Curtis Panio - image credit)
Vlad Panio of The Panio Brothers Band died of cancer at the age of 75 on July 9, leaving behind a Saskatchewan polka legacy. (Submitted by Curtis Panio - image credit)

When Curtis Panio thinks of his father, Vlad Panio, he pictures the late Saskatchewan polka great with an accordion.

"When I was kid, we would go and travel to seniors' homes and he would play — even for them on the side — just to make them happy and to bring some joy," Curtis remembered, adding the fondest memories with his dad were when he was on tour and sold his albums before shows.

Vlad died at the age of 75 on July 9, after a brief but ferocious battle with cancer.

He leaves behind the legacy of The Panio Brothers Band — the Ukrainian folk group that he formed in 1969 with his brothers, John and Dave Panio, along with friends Bill Lewchyshyn and Henry Panagabko.

Together, they played countless concerts, weddings and cabarets across the Prairies.

"The crowds were all energized and they filled the floor — they loved dancing to The Panio Brothers," Lewchyshyn recalled with a laugh.

Submitted by Curtis Panio
Submitted by Curtis Panio

The band was inducted into the Ukrainian Music Hall of Fame in 2015 and received the lifetime achievement award one year later.

In 2018, Vlad was honoured individually with the Ukrainian Music Association's legend of Ukrainian music award.

"Everywhere I go, still to this day, I'm asked … 'Are you related to The Panio Brothers?' It's amazing — and an homage to them for what they've accomplished and the people who they've touched in these Prairie provinces," Curtis said.

LISTEN | Remembering the life of Vlad Panio:

Life outside of music

On top of playing music, Vlad pursued a teaching career that eventually led to him taking on a job as a principal in rural Saskatchewan. In his later years, he worked as a school bus driver.

"He was a devoted father, a devoted musician — a devoted whatever he did," said Curtis, noting his dad never missed a day of work.

Submitted by Curtis Panio
Submitted by Curtis Panio

Lewchyshyn agrees.

"[Vlad] was certainly committed and he was passionate about music and determined to make his mark," Lewchyshyn said. "I valued him as a friend."

Submitted by Curtis Panio
Submitted by Curtis Panio

While he regrets never learning to play an instrument from his dad, Curtis says he's now determined to take that love his late dad and uncle John had for music and channel it into learning to play the guitar.

"We're going to miss them so much on a personal level and, of course, a professional level — but we're going to try to keep the music alive."

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