Michigan Accordion Society

Honorary Member

Mr. Ollie Petrini
August 24, 1920 – April 6, 2010

Honored by MAS on Nov 7, 1999

Ollie Petrini was born in northeastern Pennsylvania, a few miles north of Scranton, in the heart of the anthracite coal industry.  His parents immigrated from Italy shortly after World War I and his father worked in the coal fields for forty years. Ollie attended public schools, graduating in 1937 at age 16.


Music was a large influence in their extended family.  His Uncle Louie played the Accordion in the Keith Vaudeville Circuit for many years; his Aunt Helen was Concert Master of the Northeastern Pennsylvania symphony Orchestra.  Ollie was fascinated with the Accordion and began taking lessons at age 9 from his Uncle Louie, who was also his motivator and idol during these early years.  Uncle Louie took Ollie to New York City at age 12, where he studied under Pietro Deiro, known as the “Father of the Piano Accordion”.  This was quite a thrill for a lad so young.  

At age 14, Ollie was arranging and composing light musical arias for the Accordion.  Upon graduating from High School, he was staff Accordionist on Radio Stations WGBI and WQAN in Scranton.  He was also leader of an 11-piece orchestra during the “Big Band” era.  Ollie played hundreds of “gigs” (weddings, baptisms, Bar Mitzvahs, cocktail lounges, charities, stage shows, etc., and also taught at Uncle Louie’s Accordion Academy.  

Ollie migrated to Dearborn, Michigan in early 1941 and shortly thereafter, entered the Army via Fort Custer.  He did his basic training at Camp Crowder, Missouri then Uncle Sam sent his to school in Tyler, Texas for training in Communications, Codes and Military Intelligence.  While in Texas he played on the local radio station and for parties and dances for the Enlisted Men and Officers.  After graduation his assignment was the 4th Engineer Special Brigade in Fort Devens, Massachusetts.  The Brigade consisted if a sea battalion, responsible for manning and transporting troops.   

While in the Army he was sent to appear on the Major Bowes Amateur Program in New York City.  Ollie played U.S. Bond Drives with English actress Gertrude Lawrence, movie actress Laraine Day and others of less renown.  Along the way he was given orders to report for Special Services Duty in Fort Meade, Maryland, which was the meeting point for musicians, actors, jugglers, novelty instrumentalists, stage hands and comedians.  They stage a musical production , “Stars and Gripes”, directed by Harold Rome, that played on Broadway.  From there, the production went to the Southwest Pacific, the southern tip of the Island of New Guinea, where they entertained the troops.  They played military installations all over New Guinea, doing shows almost every day.  They also performed for wounded servicemen at base hospitals.  Entertainment was not jus limited to Army personnel, they also performed at Air Force Airfields, Naval Bases and ships – even small freight and supply ships.  Other “celebrities” in his unit included Don Knots (Andy Griffith Show), comedian and movie actor Mickey Shaughnessy, and Ace Goodrich from the movie and Broadway musical, “The Pajama Game”.  They worked with other shows headed by big names like Jack Benny, Joe E. Brown, Jane Greer, Carole Landis, Sylvia Sydney, Michael Checco and many many others.  

Ollie’s service was terminated on December 26, 1945 after 3-1/2 years – what a Christmas present!  The war was over.  In 1946 he enrolled as a music major at the University of Detroit.  He also married his Jewel, his wonderful wife and friend.  They had a son, Edward.  Eddie graduated from Michigan State and Michigan Law School, then worked for Attorney General Frank Kelley for 6-1/2 years before leaving Michigan to become and Assistant Attorney General for the State of Virginia.  Ollie and Jewel are blessed with two lovely grand-daughters, Anna and Maria.  

In 1949, Ollie opened a small music studio on Chase Road in Dearborn.  He was also carrying a full load in college, playing nights, and teaching Accordion part-time.  The music studio grew and grew, and he opened a second studio on Ford Road in Dearborn Heights.  Ollie was out of college, and cut down on play dates, and needed help at the music school.  At this point he and Tony Dannon became business partners in the very successful Modern Accordion Studios, which was the largest Accordion Studio in Michigan during the 1960’s. They had over 1,000 students and even had a weekly television show. Their students entered State and National competitions, winning top prizes each time. The school became one of the largest and most acclaimed accordion schools in the U.S.

Ollie retired in 1982 and was heavily involved in the life of the community, helping sponsor and lead youth athletic teams and programs, and contributing time and effort to civic and charitable activities, especially Rotary, where he was an enthusiastic member for decades. An early physical fitness buff and later an avid tennis player, Petrini helped found the Dearborn YMCA Tennis Club. He also was a member of the Dearborn Indoor Racket Club and the Fairlane Club. A long-time member of Cherry Hill Presbyterian Church, he often served as liturgist.

Petrini and his wife of 63 years, Jewel, moved to Richmond from their long-time home in Dearborn in 2007, to live near their only child, Edward; their daughter-in-law, Maureen Petrini and their grandchildren. Petrini passed away on peacefully surrounded by his family in April 2010