won’t find The Merry Christmas Polka on the short playlists of those radio stations that switch to holiday music for the
season. You certainly won’t hear it piped
into the remaining brick-and-mortar malls
and big box stores. But it is just the kind of stuff that we
thrive on at the Murfin Winter Holidays
Music Festival. We aim to find
holiday music across styles and cultures.
And for modern Americans,
especially the hipsters, no music is
more alien than the polka.
the post-World War II era, Americans
were searching for new sounds. The big
bands that had dominated the music scene since the early 1930’s were still
out there and popular but the economics
of keeping huge payrolls on the road
was taking a toll on all but the biggest names.
Folks were turning to alternatives and for a while competition
was tough. Sophisticated jazz fans were turning to bebop, but that was “listening” not dancing music. Western Swing, cowboy, and hillbilly music,
not yet lumped together as country &
western had a strong following. The Weavers and others led a folk music bomblet. Rhythm & blues was beginning to
attract daring white audiences. Male and female close harmony quartets and trios got a lot of air play and
former big band singers were striking out on their own with romantic ballads. And there was a Latin music craze. In the
days when radio stations were not ghettoized
into narrow formats you might hear
all these styles on the same day or program.
was also enjoying newfound broad popularity, escaping from the Polish, German, and Czech enclaves
in the big northern industrial cities
Detroit, Chicago, and Milwaukee. It
was fun and everybody got up and danced. Returning veterans like my late father
in law Art Brady and his pal and brother in law Al Wilczynski could strap on their accordions every weekend and make almost as much money as at
their blue collar day jobs playing taverns, dance halls,
VFW and Elks halls, high school dances, and even on the
Popular music stars noted the trend
and some tried to ride it. In 1950 composer Sonny Burke and lyricist Paul Francis Webster, Tin Pan Alley journeymen with no long
connection to the sound penned The Merry
Christmas Polka and shopped it around to record labels. Not
surprisingly North Dakota’s
Lawrence Welk Orchestra, a sweet big
band that often featured polkas, issued a side. So did the Tennessee thrush Dinah Shore. But the Andrews Sisters, struggling to regain their war-time popularity fronting Guy
Lombardo and his Royal Canadians got a hit
record with it.
was covered later by famous and obscure bands and was a minor hit for country
music’s Jim Reeves and Tex Ritter.
Many early country artists mixed in Polkas to appeal to their fans
in the Dakotas, Minnesota, and the Canadian Prairie Provinces.
song is still popular with Tex-Mex bands
and sung with gusto in Spanish.