Polka Happiness

Charles Keil, Angeliki V. Keil, and Dick Blau
Book Cover

PB: $26.95
EAN: 978-1-56639-462-8
Publication: Apr 96

HC: $43.50
EAN: 978-0-87722-819-6
Publication: Oct 92

288 pages
8 x 10
150 halftones

Interviews and photographs celebrate America's rollicking polka culture


Celebrating the lively dance music that draws together generations of Polish Americans, Polka Happiness captures the energy, excitement, and shared sense of belonging embodied in polka sociability. With rich descriptive material and 150 historical and contemporary illustrations, the book focuses on the musicians, the fans and the cultural institutions that keep the polka party going. From family gatherings and weddings to local fan clubs, night spots and churches to national and regional festivals, the polka scene is a year-round carnival, full of high jinks, hilarity, ethnic pride and tears—an intensely felt experience drawn from sources deep in Polish America.

The testimony of musicians and fans, old timers and young enthusiasts, tells how polka culture has resisted the melting pot for more than a century. Interviews, memorabilia and photographs spotlight the stars of the polka world—Li'l Wally, Walt Solek, Eddie Blazonczyk, Frankie Yankovic, the Dyna-Tones—as well as the many regional favorites in Buffalo, Milwaukee and Chicago that have delighted millions of fans.

Polka Happiness chronicles the immense popularity of the music in nineteenth century Europe and its enduring popularity in the United States. After tracing the history of polka's spread throughout the world, the authors focus on the emergence and intense rivalry of the Chicago and Eastern styles in the United States. The book also traces the role of the International Polka Association in establishing networks, promoting events and providing an environment in which Polish Americans can celebrate and nourish their cultural heritage.

For twenty years, the authors have been part of the social world of polka music and dancing in the bars, church halls and ballrooms of Rust Belt America; their exuberant descriptions reflect the enthusiasm of wholehearted participants.


"(A)n inspiring account, with strikingly eloquent photographs . . . based on material collected over twenty years. . . . This is research con amore."
Popular Music

"The collection of 150 color and b&w photos of Poles having the time of their lives at weddings, nightclubs, festivals and parties needs only the accompaniment of the accordion to make the experience complete for readers."
Publishers Weekly

"(A) definitive look at the music and the colorful, high-octane cast of polka musicians and accordion-happy fans."
Milwaukee Sentinel

"The sensitive insights of the Keils in a very readable text and the lively photographs by Blau capture the dynamic spirit of Polish Americans who would rather dance than disappear."
Polish-American Journal

Table of Contents


Part I: Polka Time: A History of Polish-American Polkas
1. Made in America
2. From Eastern to Chicago Style

Part II: Polka Movement: The International Polka Association
3. Organizing a Cultural Network
4. An Annual Ritual

Part III: Polka Place: The Polk Scene in Two Cities
5. Milwaukee
6. Buffalo

Select Discography
Name Index

About the Author(s)

Charles Keil is Professor of American Studies at State University of New York, Buffalo, and the author of Tiv Song and Urban Blues.

Angeliki V. Keil is a writer and researcher and the compiler of an autobiography of Markos Vamvakaris.

Dick Blau is Professor of Film at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.


In the Series

  • Visual Studies edited by Douglas Harper

    Visual Studies, edited by Douglas Harper, will consist of a broad range of books that regard photography, film, and other visual media as vehicles for exploring social and cultural themes. We are developing a series of illustrated books that draw on photographs as primary documents and that include a substantial analytic text; however, we will also consider unillustrated manuscripts on visual subjects. Douglas Harper is a photographer and sociologist who teaches at Potsdam College of the State University of New York.