Voices of Minnesota

Minnesota Polka Oral History Project


DATE: February 1990


The narrators in this series include people who have been involved with the performance of ethnic polka music in Minnesota and adjacent states, both leading bands and playing and singing in them. The musical traditions include Polish, Slovakian, Finnish, Czech, German and Swedish. Many of the narrators are first or second generation Americans and describe the rich part music played in their home life and social gatherings. They all discuss how they began to play music. While most were self-taught and had very little formal music training, they are very knowledgeable about the instruments, particularly the accordion and concertina. They also discuss the number and mix of instruments and the influence of electronics.

The interviews include extensive reminiscences about various bands and players over the years; some played locally (150 miles or less), and others traveled nationally. Also discussed are changes in audiences, both in numbers and musical preferences, and adaptation from "pure" ethnic music to a blend of styles that include other influences. Some of the centers of particular importance to polka music mentioned are the Mesabi Iron Range and New Prague in Minnesota, and Chicago and Cleveland.

LENGTH OF INTERVIEWS: 9 hours 26 minutes