Of the crazy quilt of ethnicities comprising the cultural mosaic of Texas, the contributions of the Czechs are not to be diminished. From Shiner Bock to kolaches and plenty more, the bounties brought to the people of Texas by way of Czechoslovakia are nigh innumerable. Among those, polka has made a particular, if sometimes overlooked, impression on Texan culture, with a unique flavor of the dance music originating in central Texas which can to this day not only be heard in its pure form, but also in its influences on the state’s official musical genre, western swing.
One of the leading purveyors of polka music for much of the twentieth century, Bačova Česka Kapela (“Bača’s Czech Band” in English) of Fayetteville, Texas, was originally founded in 1892 by Frantisek “Frank” J. Bača, a first generation Texan, born March 8, 1860, whose father emigrated from Bohemia. In addition to his own thirteen children, the band included local musicians from around the central Texas Czech country. Bača was proficient on several instruments, and his band quickly gained popularity at local functions and SPJST dances. They quickly established themselves as one of Texas’ most popular polka orchestras, alongside the likes of Joe Patek’s Orchestra of Shiner. A national tour was planned, but was aborted following the Frank Bača’s death on May 3, 1907. Subsequently, leadership of the the Kapela was assumed by his son John R. Bača. Under his directorship, the Bača band made their first record in Chicago in 1924, for Okeh and their ethnically oriented subsidiary Odeon, under the name “Baster’s Ceska Kapela”. They made their radio debut in 1926, playing on Houston’s KPRC. When the Okeh company visited San Antonio five years later, they furthered their recorded legacy with a session which produced eight sides in June of 1929. They made another sixteen in two record dates on the twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth of August, 1935, when Okeh’s successor Vocalion made a field trip to Texas. Further recordings were made for local labels like Waco’s Humming Bird Records after the Second World War. John Bača died on April 16, 1953, and the Bača baton was passed on to his nephew Gil, whose father Ray had led an offshoot of the original band since 1932. A distinctive pianist, Gil Bača led the family band to great acclaim until his death on October 15, 2008, bringing the multi-generational history of Bačova Česka Kapela to its close. Many of their recordings were reissued on the Arhoolie compilation Texas-Czech Bohemian-Moravian Bands.
Vocalion 15943 was recorded on August 27, 1935, in San Antonio, Texas. It was also released—evidently concurrently—on Columbia 263-F, which remained in “print” for a considerable length of time. On all issues, it seems to have been Bačova Česka Kapela’s best-selling record.
Firstly the Kapela plays a boisterous polka titled “Já Jsem Mladá Vdova”, or in English, “Young Widow”, in an arrangement by Adolf Snec.
On the flip, they play another deceptively titled upbeat polka number, “Dobrunoc (Goodnight)”, an original Frank J. Bača composition.
OMG! What a reward and what memories are running rampant in my brain. My wife and I lived in Rosenberg, Texas, belonged to the Texas Polka Club, and criss-crossed central Texas dancing to the sounds of all the Czech bands in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. I remember the countless Saturday nights at the Bill Mraz Hall in North Houston dancing to the sounds of the Bill Mraz Orchestra, Joe Patek, Leroy Matocha, The City Polka Boys, The Red Ravens, The Vrazels, Ray and Gil Baca, and other bands the names of which I can’t remember. Then, on Sunday afternoon’s, we followed these same Czech groups from Ennis to Corpus Christi, from Houston to Shiner, all in Central Texas. And then on the odd Sunday’s Czech bands would come from as far away as Nebraska (Al Grebinick) and Wisconsin (The Don Peachey Band) to the Riverside Dance Pavillon in East Bernard, Texas or the SPJST Lodge 88 in Houston.
Wonderful times! Priceless memories. Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons, dancing to Czech polka music, drinking Shiner beer, and sweating profusely. We were truly blessed to be in Central Texas at that time.
Thank you and God Bless.