This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for October 24, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.
During my growing-up years, German and Slavic polka music was so much a joyful part of my life that I suspect the love for polkas must be in my DNA! Although the polka was “invented” in Bohemia, it became extremely popular among Germans, Czechs, Moravians, Wends, and Poles, throughout Europe, and immigrants brought the popularity to America. Just like in Czech-American families, in Texas Wendish families, you could always find an accordion, and several kids who could play it by ear.
Unfortunately, I was not one of those kids, but I did learn to play the trombone in high school and was a member of the Giddings High School Band in 1949 or 1950 when we were invited to play polka music at the Serbin Church and School Picnic. I do remember our playing for about an hour in a gazebo on the Picnic grounds, and I remember playing the immensely popular (in the 1940’s) “Beer Barrel Polka.” There were three or four people standing around the gazebo watching and listening to us, and two of them were my parents. Obviously we were not the best polka-playing group that ever played for the Serbin Picnic.
Nevertheless my brief polka-playing experience began a life-long passion for polka music, which I hid during my early college years, because loving ethnic polka music was not very “groovy” among my drama, art, and music major friends who were totally into progressive jazz and classical music. Not too many years later, freed from the “ashamed-to-be-from” and “ashamed-to-really-like” phase of my pseudo-sophisticated years, I began to enjoy, flaunt, and glory in my ethnicity, especially the love for old-time polka music.
So, naturally, as an Astros fan who loved the polka, I was taken by Polish Pete’s smash hit (in Texas anyway), “The Altuve Polka,” honoring the Astros second baseman, Jose Altuve, in 2017 when Altuve first became a baseball hero in Houston. Polish Pete wrote another piece, I think in 2018, entitled “I Love Those Houston Astros,” completing a full-length recording in 2018. Played by “The Polka? I Hardly Know Her Band,” polka music and baseball played well together. So, Saturday night, when Altuve stunned the crowds by hitting that homerun which takes the ‘Stros into the World Series, “The Altuve Polka” was played and posted on Facebook
with even more oomp-pa-pa than in 2017.
Naturally I have added “The Altuve Polka” to my collection of fun polkas to listen to and brighten up my day. There have been so many, many joyful-sounding polkas over the years. There were lots of great polka bands in the 1940’s when I was growing up in Lee County, Texas, and, as a teenager, I danced to their music at the SPJST Hall in Dime Box, though I was kind of a wall flower who didn’t dance very well. I loved music, I loved polkas, and I loved to dance in spite of my hindrances to having fun.
The most famous polka band in the 1940’s was the Joe Patek Orchestra, originally called the Patek Band of Shiner. They were famous for “The Shiner Song” and “Beautiful America” (“Krasna Amerika”). Joe Patek’s recording of the “Beer Barrel Polka” sold more than a million copies. So polka music was alive and well in America in those days!
And still is. Today, there is the Shiner Hobo Band, following in the footsteps of the Patek Band of Shiner. And there is the Moravian Polka Band of Ennis, Texas, founded in 2009 by seven high school students. They played for the recent Wendish Fest in Serbin, Texas, in September, and were much admired by the huge crowds attending the Fest. And there are many, many more that I have read about in the Texas Polka News.
I have to end this with my favorite polka musicians, The Dujka Brothers, who were recently inducted into the South Texas Polka Hall of Fame, and whose latest recordings are “Twenty Five Years Making Tracks” and “On St. John Road.” Next month, the Dujka Brothers will be playing for a Royal Caribbean Cruise, which sales from Galveston on November 17. I am proud to say that I knew them when, lol.
It gives me great joy to report that polka music is still alive and well and played and loved by the younger generation!
Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and the author of a book, It Must Be the Noodles.