Music Every Saturday
The Ethnic Legacy
The musical traditions
fostered by German speaking immigrants are forever woven into the cultural
fabric of Wisconsin. As much a part of Wisconsin as the stereotypical
cheese, beer, and brats are today’s overtly ethnic musical activities
of polka bands and Swiss-American yodelers. This section of the exhibit
looks at examples of German and Swiss traditional music as it has been
practiced in Wisconsin since the 1920s.
The delightful mixture
of German and English (with its misspelled “Music” for the
German Musik) found on the small 1930s advertising card for Hans Muehlbauer’s
Milwaukee tavern could almost act as a metaphor for the evolution of German
traditional music brought to the United States; sometimes it’s German,
sometimes it’s American, sometimes it’s a blend of both.
blending of German and English is no more evident than in the activities
of Jack Bundy, a Milwaukee radio announcer in the 1930s and ‘40s.
For comedic effect, Bundy adopted a German persona as leader of “Heinie
und his Grenadiers,” a band which featured performances of German
folk music on its regular radio broadcasts.
The band was immensely
popular and made recordings for Decca and Coral Records. Heinie responded
to listener mail with post cards which included his photograph and a brief
message employing his characteristic parody of the German-American accent
and phrase structure: “Ve hopes you keep listenin’ in, unt
dot you writes again, so often vot you like.”
The Alte Kamaraden
Band from Freistadt, Wisconsin was organized in 1942, but the roots of
the group reach well back into the nineteenth century when the city was
settled by Lutheran dissenters from Pomerania and Brandenburg. By the
mid-1970s, the band consisted of fourth and fifth generation German-Americans
performing a repertoire featuring “the old traditional music that
the forefathers…brought with them from Germany.” Still active,
the band has toured across the United States and performed in Germany
on numerous occasions.
Green County was the destination of thousands of nineteenth century German-speaking
Swiss immigrants. The cities of Monroe and New Glarus celebrate this rich
Swiss heritage in their architecture, restaurants, and of course, in their
A unique part of
their musical activity has included the formation of yodel clubs, an idea
which originated in Switzerland but quickly leaped the Atlantic. In
1921 a club was formed in Monroe and by 1928 another had emerged in nearby
German or “Dutchman” style is one of several distinctive varieties
of polka music common in Wisconsin. Among the many prominent polka musicians
who performed in this style were the Syl Groeschl Band from Calumetville.