Polka Heartland: Why the Midwest Loves to Polka

By Dick Blau (photographer) and Rick March (author)

Hardcover: $29.95

ISBN: 978-0-87020-722-8

208 pages, 140 color and b&w photos, 8 x 9; E-Book Edition Available


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"Polka Heartland" captures the beat that pulses in the heart of Midwestern culture--the polka--and offers up the fascinating history of how "oompah-pah" came to be the sound of middle America. From the crowded dance tent at Pulaski Polka Days to an off-the-grid Mexican polka dance in small-town Wisconsin, "Polka Heartland" explores the people, places, and history behind the Midwest's favorite music.

From polka's surprising origin story as a cutting-edge European fad to an exploration of the modern-day polka scene, author Rick March and photographer Dick Blau take readers on a joyful romp through this beloved, unique, and richly storied genre. "Polka Heartland" describes the artists, venues, instruments, and music-makers who have been pivotal to polka's popularity across the Midwest and offers six full-color photo galleries to immerse readers in today's vibrant polka scene.

To receive a review copy or press release, to schedule an author event, or for more information, contact the WHS Press Marketing Department: whspress@wisconsinhistory.org.

Dick Blau has a BA from Harvard and a PhD from Yale. A self-taught photographer, filmmaker, and performer, he cofounded the highly regarded Department of Film at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Blau calls his work an ethnography of the feelings. His subjects range from highly personal dramas to huge communal events. Blau has co-authored three books on the culture of celebration: "Polka Happiness," "Skyros Carnival," and "Bright Balkan Morning." An exhibit of his polka work was recently shown at the Wisconsin Museum of Art in West Bend. Blau lives with writer Jane Gallop in downtown Milwaukee.

Author and folklorist Rick March has participated in the Midwest polka scene for more than three decades as a bandleader, sideman, deejay, and writer. March has a PhD from Indiana University and is a preeminent scholar of Midwest music history and culture, with an emphasis on previously little-studied music traditions. He was the longtime host of "Down Home Dairyland" on Wisconsin Public Radio and a producer of polka CDs for Smithsonian Folkways. As the State Folklorist for Wisconsin from 1983 to 2009 based at the Wisconsin Arts Board, March organized festivals, exhibits, and other educational programs in partnership with numerous Midwestern arts and cultural organizations.





Catch the polka beat in our book trailer video here, and then discover more about the music that keeps the feet in Wisconsin -- and beyond -- tapping in "Polka Heartland"!

Interview with Rick March

Wisconsin Historical Society Press: Why did you decide to write "Polka Heartland?"

I decided to write this book because:

a) Iíve had a life-long familiarity with polka, and

b) I decided about 35 years ago that polka is perhaps the least studied of American musical traditions, which is why I ought to study it. I wound up with a head full of polka data which was bouncing around in my brain so I needed to unload some of it into the book to make room for more.

WHS Press: Was there one story in particular that speaks to you?

Thereís a story Iíve told more than once about attending a polka festival in Ellsworth, WI (up near River Falls) when a gully-washing thunderstorm descended on us. But we just rolled down the side sheets of the big tent and kept dancing as rain and hail pounded the tent. I understood it as a metaphor of what polka is all about.

WHS Press: What do you hope readers take away from ďPolka Heartland?"

I hope readers take away a deeper appreciation of polka as a great Midwestern tradition that has enriched our regionís culture. I also hope that†readers learn that there are many distinct varieties of polka and that the music can be expressive and sophisticatedónot just kitsch.

What is one of the things that you find most fascinating about the history of polka in America?

Itís fascinating that something that started as a pop culture craze in the 1840s is still alive and kicking about 175 years later. Thatís longevity.

WHS Press: How can this book serve as a guide to polka history?

The text has citations of much of the previous work on polka (there are very few books and articles) as well as lists in the sources section of recommended recordings and motion pictures.

WHS Press: What were some of the most surprising or interesting things you learned from writing this book?

Thanks to the new searchable databases of historic newspapers, I was able to do research that would have been very difficult and time-consuming before their existence. In 19th Century English and American newspapers I was able to track polkaís sudden emergence and spread, which provided new evidence to de-bunk, and understanding of the reasons for widely-circulated myths of polkaís origin.

WHS Press: What are the ways in which "Polka Heartland" is a uniquely Wisconsin story?

Wisconsin is in the heart of the Midwestern polka country. Wisconsin has the greatest variety of different ethnic styles of polka of any state. Wisconsin has a lot of bands. The research hasnít been done, but Iíd hazard a guess that this state has the most polka bands per capita in the US.

WHS Press: How was writing this book a personal experience?

Since I retired from the Wisconsin Arts Board and since the Down Home Dairyland radio program I produced for 14 years on WPR went off the air several years ago, my contact with polka and the polka people had diminished. So the opportunity to lead Dick Blau, the super-talented photographer with whom I co-authored the book, down the pathways back into the polka world, and to be warmly remembered and so well received was personally moving.

WHS Press: What is your favorite†chapter in the book?

I like all the chapters. If I have to pick one, it would be the chapter that begins with the Gully-washer story I mentioned in the answer to question 2.

Check out more of what the author of "Polka Heartland" had to say in this article in Polkabeat.com: http://www.polkabeat.com/blog/dax3d7ithw4pzq1g7odlkaaj7vnwtq††