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Jerzy Połomski, beloved Polish crooner of 1960s and 1970s, dies at 89

A native of Radom, Połomski wanted to become an architect. Fortunately, communist authorities in charge of admission to architecture school decided they must first fill their proletarian quota.

Jerzy Połomski was born Jerzy Pająk on September 18, 1933 in Radom, a city some 100 kilometres south of the capital of Warsaw. He spent his childhood and youth in his native city, where he graduated in construction from a secondary technical school.

He moved to Warsaw, where he hoped to pursue his dream of becoming an architect. The only reason he was not accepted was that at that time certain studies granted extra points upon entry to those who came from proletarian and peasant backgrounds. Or were members of the communist Union of Polish Youth.

And so, facilitated by the absurdities of communism, architecture’s loss was Polish stage’s gain.

He successfully passed the entry exams at the State Higher Theatrical School in Warsaw. There, his lecturer and mentor, the legendary actor whose career dated back to before World War Two, suggested that he change his name to one more befitting an artist. His original surname, Pająk, is a common noun meaning “spider”.

Sempoliński also advised the young artist to focus his career entirely on music instead of acting. This piece of advice was initially ignored. Jerzy, now Połomski, graduated in 1957, with a diploma in dramatic acting and stage performance.

Połomski acted in several dramas, while also performing in Studio Buffo, one of Warsaw’s best-known musical theatres. As his mentor, Sempoliński, recounted, Połomski was disenchanted with his two seasons at Studio Buffo, being only given silly and trivial novelty songs to perform. But he did not let that dampen his drive, and he also worked with Polish Radio.

The listeners of the wireless loved his baritone voice, and he in fact became so popular, that in the 1958 plebiscite for the most popular Polish singers organised by Polish Radio, he came in second.

Rumour was that he would have won the first place, but radio’s director, the famous Polish composer Władysław Szpilman (portrayed by Adrien Brody in the Academy Award-Winning “The Pianist”) thought it would not be right for a young upstart like Połomski to win over the famous Mieczysław Fogg, another star who remained consistently popular from since before the war.

Połomski continued to gain popularity throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s. At the first Sopot International Song Festival, he won the second prize, and at the 6th Opole National Festival of Polish Song, he received an award from the Society of Friends of Opole.

As his career was gaining momentum, the number of popular hits under his belt increased, with some of his best-known songs including “Bo z dziewczynami” (The trouble with girls) and “Cała sala śpiewa z nami” (The whole room sings with us). He was known for his interpretations of beloved pre-war songs, as well as covers of his from abroad, such as “Formidable”, “Kilimandjaro”, and “House of the Rising Sun”. His style of singing earned him the monicker of the Polish Frank Sinatra or Charles Aznavour, although he distanced himself from such comparisons.

Połomski also performed abroad, in countries such as the U.K., Denmark, Czechoslovakia, USSR, Yugoslavia, Romania, and Hungary. He also travelled across the Big Drink, performing in Cuba, as well as the U.S. and Canada. In Chicago, the local Polish diaspora honoured him three times with their title of the most popular singer among the community, in 1967, 1968, and 1969. His tours took him as far as the Land Down Under.

His popularity continued, and in 2009 he received the Złoty Fryderyk award in the lifetime achievement category.

Deteriorating hearing caused him to retire from performing in 2019. He lived in Warsaw until moving to the House for Veteran Stage Artists in Skolimowo in 2021.

Jerzy Połomski died in the Central Clinical Hospital of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Administration in Warsaw on November 14, 2022.

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