Bernardo Yanci

Bernardo Yanci was born in 1926 in Lesaka, Navarre, on the Spanish side of the Basque Country. He was an accomplished accordion player and also was a regular performer at Basque celebrations throughout the Great Basin. He was one of the most notable Basque-American musicians who played a key part of in the preservation of Basque music in the States.

Bernardo moved to the United States in 1951 when he was 24 years old. When he arrived, he worked as a sheepherder in California, and as a bartender in San Francisco and Elko. However, music was always an important part of Bernardo's life and his love for the piano accordion remained strong. From the time he was young he wanted to learn how to play the piano accordion. His cousin was the famous Pepe Yanci, accordionist for the successful Basque sextet Los Xey. Pepe was one of the first Basque musicians to play the larger piano accordion, instead of the traditional button accordion. On the recommendation of his cousin, Bernardo took three years of piano lessons, and also practiced with his cousin’s accordion before his father bought him his own when he was 17. In four months he was playing for weddings and celebrations.

He and his cousin composed an original song called “Lesaka" named for the town where they were born. According to Jean Flesher, Bernardo was Pepe's equal in every way, playing flawless music. He would have become as famous as his cousin if he would have remained in Euskal Herria and developed his career there.

Of all the traditional Basque music which Bernardo played, he liked the fast Jotas or Fandangos best; they made him feel happy and alive.

For many years, Bernardo taught Mercedes Mendive who is now the main accordionist in Elko, Nevada, and he influenced many younger generation musicians such as Jean Flesher. He also played for many years for the Arinak Basque dancers and travelled with them as they performed across the western United States.

Sources: Home means Nevada documentaries, 1986, Nevada Arts Council, and Jean Flesher and his Basque Musicianship in the Western United States article, Ricardo Yanci.

Basque Music of Boise, Vol 2, track 26. 

2 Espe Alegria Collection, from the Idaho State Archives.

Bernardo Yanci playing accordion with Jean Iribarne playing clarinete, Elko, Nevada.

Audio Recording: 
Bernardo Yanci and Sean Aucutt, 1.
Bernando Yanci, four accordion pieces from Elko, date unknown, 2.
Bernardo Yanci, 1994 NABO Accordion Festival. Recording provided by Jean Flesher.
Bernardo Yanci, 1994 NABO Accordion Festival. Recording provided by Jean Flesher.
Bernardo Yanci, 1994 NABO Accordion Festival. Recording provided by Jean Flesher.