Polly Kendall Popovich, half of the Kendall Sisters musical duo popular in the 1940s and '50s, died of Parkinson's disease at her home near Cleveland on Nov. 18. She was 80.
The Kendall sisters started out singing country tunes at church socials, and ended up performing yodels and polkas on weekly television, stage and radio shows including NBC's "National Barn Dance."
Born Paulina Kenda in Morgantown, W.Va., to an immigrant Slovene coal mining family, "Polly" grew up in Wickhaven, Fayette County. She learned as a child to play guitar and buttonbox accordion and sing Eastern European folk harmonies. By the time they were 10, Polly and her sister Dolores -- known as "Dolly" -- were singing country and Gospel songs at school and church events.
Dolly Kendall Baker recorded her memories of her sister on tape in 2000, said Rebecca Popovich Burdick, Polly's daughter.
The girls' climb to fame began in the mid-1930s, when they appeared with Curley Miller and the Sage Riders on the Saturday Jamboree radio show in Connellsville. The show moved to Pittsburgh, then Chicago, where they joined the National Barn Dance traveling circuit through the Midwest.
Throughout the '40s the sisters recorded for Continental, Argo, RCA and Decca. "Yea Yea," their final 1958 hit, is still on oldies playlists today.
In 1945, Dolly and Polly joined two groups headed by Cleveland impresario Ernie Benedict: the Range Riders and the Polkateers. Their recordings included "Over Three Hills," "Jolly Lumberjack Polka" and "Polka Dots and Polka Dreams." Many of the sisters' songs were based on the folk tunes their father taught them when they were children, said Mrs. Baker.
In 1947, they built Harmony Ranch, a country-themed 20-acre picnic grove and dance hall outside Cleveland. As live radio shows gave way to television, the Kendall Sisters made the transition -- they were part of the first broadcast from WEWS Cleveland. Their Kendall Sisters TV show debuted in 1952.
When the Cleveland Indians won the World Series in 1948, the sisters joined the victory parade. They were swept into convertibles with the ball team for a grand parade up Euclid Avenue. An autographed baseball from that day was one of Polly's treasures, her daughter said.
Polly married John Popovich in 1949 and had two daughters. She and her sister continued to cut demo records for songwriters and sing at nightclubs. They made their final appearance in Toronto in the early 1960s, singing a song called "I'm Available."
In 1993, Dolly and Polly and the Polkateers band were inducted to the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame.
Besides her sister, Mrs. Popovich is survived by her husband of 56 years; daughters Rebecca Burdick of Pittsburgh and Paulette Popovich of Brecksville, Ohio; and a grandson.
Her funeral was in Cleveland Monday.
Rebekah Scott can be reached at email@example.com or 724-836-2655.