Polka from around the world generally has a duple rhythm. It is a dance first invented in Bohemia circa 1830. Anna Slezak was the lady who first danced the polka. Polka has evolved in the USA and throughout the world to include many dance forms.
Since the 1830’s, the music has spread across Europe and into the Americas and beyond. There are many aspects of today’s polka that continue to thrive which include the following dance forms: waltz, schottische, laendler, hoolerie, mazurka, rheinlander, oberek, polka and more.
We at Polka Connection have a passion for promoting this music. We have included several of the music categories that come under the term polka. Each of these categories can be branched out into many various forms and styles of music.
Czech/Slovak music had its start in Europe and still thrives to this day. Josef Poncar, Jaromir Vejvoda and Karel Vacek had a huge impact on the music of this past century. Jaromir Vejvoda composed Škoda lásky (Rosamunde - Beer Barrel Polka). We have continued to “Roll out the Barrel” as this song is one of the biggest selling polkas of all time! To this day, the music continues to grow with many new albums every year.
German/Austrian/Swiss music often uses German lyrics but will include English and instrumental selections. Many of the artists from Europe have had huge success with several gold records. Popular artists from Europe include Blasmusik (Brass Band Music) expert Ernst Mosch and the Oberkrainer inventor Slavko Avsenik. Mosch and Avsenik have had several gold records. Other music that is classified under the German/Austrian/Swiss category would include yodeling, Austrian button box accordion, and Bavarian musik as well as many other forms.
The Dutchmen style got its start in the city of New Ulm, MN, USA. This music continues to thrive to this day. Some of the early contributors to its popularity include Whoopee John, Babe Wagner, Harold Loeffelmacher and the Six Fat Dutchmen, Elmer Scheid and Ray Dorschner’s Rainbow Valley Dutchmen.
The Slovenian/Cleveland Style originated in Slovenia and then evolved in America. Frankie Yankovic, America’s Polka King, took the music throughout the USA. He is of Slovenian decent yet he Americanized the music! He had two gold records with the Just Because Polka and the Blue Skirt Waltz. His music continues to live on. Others that had a huge influence include Johnny Pecon, Lou Trebar and current day accordion player Joey Miskulin. Walter Ostanek is well known as Canada’s Polka King and has won three Grammy® Awards for his efforts.
Polish American polkas continue to thrive in the USA and beyond. There are three main forms within the Polish American polka scene including: Eastern Style, Push Style and Honky Style. These can be further dissected but for this forum we will stick with the three main categories. Li’l Wally was best known around Chicago for his Honky Style which is a bit more laid back with improvisation throughout the music. Grammy® Award winning Eddie Blazonczyk’s Versatones have had a huge impact on the popular Push Style of polka music. A former Versatone that went on to much fame and acclaim is Lenny Gomulka and the Chicago Push. The Eastern Style is best characterized by the full ensemble sound with a more up-beat tempo. Bernie Witkowski, Frank Wojnarowski, and Gene Wisniewski were popular bands as this style evolved. Eighteen time Grammy® winner Jimmy Sturr and his Orchestra continues to perform Eastern Style polkas with precision and have also further explored other musical art forms along the way.
Accordion polkas feature the accordion as the primary instrument. Some of the most popular accordion players include: Myron Floren, Joey Miskulin, and Johnny Pecon.
Button Box Accordion polkas feature the diatonic button box accordion as the primary instrument. Some of the best players are: Steve Jordan, Danny Jerabek, and Fred Ziwich among many others of note including world button box champ Denis Novato.
Concertina polkas feature the concertina as the primary instrument. Some of the best players include: Don Gralak, Karl Hartwich and Eddie Lash. It is interesting to note that each of the above artists plays a different yet very precise style of polka music.
Tex-Mex is music that can best be characterized as music that crosses the border of Texas and Mexico. Of course there are many labels within this music including: Norteño, Conjunto, and Tejano. This music continues to thrive and evolve.