Podgórski and Polish Dance Orchestras in the U.S. (1930s and 1940s)


by Barbara Zakrzewska

Originally published on the PMC website on 8 August 2000


While cataloging music scores at Polish Music Reference Center, I noticed a very interesting series entitled “ALBUM Wesolych Tańców Polskich na Orkiestrę” (“Album of merry Polish dances for orchestra”) published by Ignacy Podgórski in Philadelphia. Nos 1-20 of this series appeared in the years 1933-1948. This series had been received by the PMRC from The Polish Arts & Culture Foundation, San Francisco. I think that this publication is an important source of information about the activities of Polish musicians in the field of popular music in various American cities, such as Philadelphia, Trenton, N.J., Meriden, Conn., Fall River, Mass., Flint, Mich., Chicago, New York Mills, N.Y., New Bedford, Mass., Indian Orchard, Mass., Schenectady, N.Y., Easthampton, Mass., and Brooklyn, N.Y.

What one can learn from the scores ? We may find out, for instance, that Ignacy Podgórski was a music publisher and owner of the music store in Philadelphia, at 2233 Orthodox Street. At the same time he was a violinist and conductor of his own dance orchestra, which performed in Philadelphia. As a publisher he was able to prepare the editions of Polish dances for dance orchestras with the instrumentation for the 1st Violin, B-flat Cornet or Bflat Ist Tenor Saxophone, E flat Alto Saxophone, Trombone or Cello, Bass, Piano accompaniment, Accordion and Piano solo. These dances also featured a melody line with words. When looking at the “Album” I noticed, that Podgorski was also a composer of several dances, such as: “Broncia, polka”, “Wesoła kumoszka, polka”, “Siwa gąska, siwa – polka”, “Nasz kumoter, oberek”, “Nowomodny oberek”. “W jezioreczku bystra woda”, W Warszawie być , walc”, “Zakochany Franuś, oberek”, “Polka, od Lwowa”, “Na weselu u Pietruszki”, “Marsz staropolski”, “Za pieniądze wszystko można”, “Polka Stasia”, “Wesoła Mania, polka”, “Oberek krakowski”, “Moje złotko, walc”, “Kujawiak od Kruświcy”, “Polka od Rzeszowa”, “Walc dla zakochanych”, “Krakowiak”, “Chłopski oberek”, “Nikt nie winien, polka”, “Malarz, oberek”, “Złota rybka, polka”, “Zalotna polka”, “Polka wesołych muzykantów”, “Na weselu, oberek”, “Olemka, polka”, “Skoczna polka”.

Here I am mentioning only the titles of his dances, which have been published in the first two volumes of the series. But of course, he composed and published many more dances in the subsequent volumes; he also wrote songs for other publications, which appeared in various series issued by his publishing house: “Podgórski’s Easy Polish album for junior orchestra”, “Podgórski’s Polish song book,” “Podgórski’s Favorite Polish song albums.”

The repertoire of the Podgórski’s Dance Orchestra is presented in the first six volumes of the series. Apart from the dances composed by Podgórski himself, his orchestra performed also the dances by Edward Piech, F. Kowal, P. P. Wilusz, and anonymous Polish dances arranged by E. Grudowski, P.P. Wilusz, F. Kowal, and W. Osowski. Dances published in volumes 7-17, 20 had been composed by Podgórski and by anonymous composers. Edward “Judy” Rominiecki published his dances with English titles in vol.18. Stanley J. Sosnowski included his compositions in vol. 19. Volume 14th, published during World War II, contained Feliks Nowowiejski’s “Rota” [Oath] under title “Nie damy ziemi” [We shall not give away our land]; this composition had been expanded by Podgórski and arranged by E. Grudowski. During World War II several other pieces received patriotic titles: ” Żołnierski marsz” [Soldiers March] by Podgórski (vol.13), “W wolnym kraju” [In a free country] (vol.14), and “Patriotyczny marsz” [Patriotic March] by Podgórski (vol.16). Sixteen pieces included in vol. 17 may be recognized as well-known but anonymous melodies of patriotic or popular songs, eg.: “Boże coś Polskę”, “Już miesiąc zaszedł”, “W poniedziałek rano”, “Jak to na wojence ładnie”, “Góralu czy ci nie żal”, “Pije Kuba do Jakuba”, “Upływa szybko życie”, “Przybyli ułani”, “Miała baba koguta.”

From volume number seven onwards, pictures and names of other Polish dance orchestras are placed on the covers, so we learn how many different Polish dance orchestras performed during the 1930s and 1940s. The following orchestras are mentioned:

William Nawrocik and his Jersey Musicales, Broadcasting Orchestra Station WTNJ, Trenton,N.J.
Johnny Solek’s Radio Bradcasting Orchestra from Meriden, Conn.
Jan Zmuda and his Radio Orchestra, Fall River, Mass.
Josephine and her Radio Broadcasting Orchestra Station WFDF, Flint, Mich.
Aleksander Bonczkowski and his Radio Orchestra, Chicago, Ill.
Stan. K. Jezowski and his Orchestra, New York Mills, N.Y.
Józef Kulig Warsaw Orchestra, New Bedford, Mass.
Joe Lazarz and his Orchestra, Indian Orchard, Mass.
Pearl Predel and her Orchestra, Schenectady, N.Y.
Stanley A. Magdziak and his Orchestra, Philadelphia, Pa.
Merry Cavaliers Radio Orchestra, E.R. Wiernasz, director, Easthampton, Mass.
Walter Solek and his Radio Recording Orchestra, Meriden, Conn.

There are also two soloists presented on covers: Edward (Judy) Rominiecki (accordionist) from Philadelphia and Stanley Sosnowski (accordionist) from Brooklyn.

It is interesting to note that among the above mentioned orchestras, one consists of women only (Pearl Predel and her Orchestra, the cover is reproduced on the side), and seven are radio broadcasting orchestras. During the war years many performance groups emerged in the U.S. that consisted only of women: men went to fight the war and their place had to be filled. The large number of radio orchestras indicates that the Polish dance groups played a significant role in their cities and that they presented a high artistic level. The majority of Polish dances issued in that series had been recorded on RCA Victor records. The last orchestra mentioned above – Walter Solek and his Radio Recording Orchestra – recorded many polkas on four cassettes (“Walt Solek sings”, “Best of Walt Solek”. “Dynamite polkas”, “Super polkas”) and one CD (“Crown prince of polkas”).

As you see from this report, cataloging music scores does not have to be a tedious task. It may provide a curious individual with an opportunity to explore and examine the past. It is possible to discover many forgotten or unknown musicians, much music that is little known today. The history of Polish dance orchestras has not been written. The popular music series received at the PMRC from the Polish Arts and Culture Foundation in San Francisco is a historical document of the first magnitute and a proof of a continuous cultural vitality of the Polish community in the U.S.