With the unique sound of an accordion and the oom pah pah of the tuba, "Abie", Nebraska's Ernie Kucera and his band has been entertaining people with polka music for the past fifty years.
Kucera first started playing drums in his brother's band, The Kucera Accordion Band in 1938. When war broke out many of the musicians were drafted, and Kucera reorganized the band in 1942. "Since the war took most of the musicians, I had to recruit high school kids to play in the band," he said. "And there are four of them still with me, Bernie Stanislav, Leonard Pittz, Leonard Vidlak and Irvin Cidlik."
Kucera said during the war, most of the jobs were played locally because gas and tires were in short supply. As he reorganized the band, he started out with a six-piece group. He later went to eight pieces and currently has a seven-piece band. Over the fifty years the band has continued to play mainly polkas and waltzes with some popular music.
"Back when we started, we would play 24 jobs a month, now we are down to two a week," Kucera said. "Even though most of us are farmers, we still find time to play." By the early 1950's Kucera's band was becoming a household name to polka lovers and he created his first record. "We made two 78's first before we decided to cut an album," he said. "And now we have made twelve albums and are currently working on our third video." Kucera said after the first album came out the band became very popular and the band was named "Nebraska's Number 1 Polka Band" by KOOO Radio. "And we have kept that name since that time," Kucera said.
He also continues to have a daily radio program on KJSK in Columbus, which plays Czech music from 11:30 a.m. to noon. Along with being named the top polka band in the state, Kucera was named Polka King in 1979 at Peony Park in Omaha and was named to the Sokol Hall of Fame in 1976. At the age of 61, Kucera and his band was the first to cross Communist lines and perform in Czechoslovakia. And, now, twelve years later Kucera and his band, along with ninety other people, will go back to Austria for a series of performances.
"I like to go back to that area of the world because there are four or five of us who can speak Czech. So it is not difficult to get around," he said. "It is sort of interesting to know that we are now playing for weddings for children of people who we played at their wedding dances," Kucera said. Kucera said he has had a lot of support over the fifty years and feels the wives of the band members deserve a lot of credit. "They deserve to be thanked for putting up with us, especially while we've been on the road." What does the future hold for Kucera? "Well at the age of 72, 1 should probably think about retiring, but as for now it is a question mark," Kucera said. "As far as I am concerned, there is no music like polka music."
Ernie Kucera was the 1992 inductee to the Polka Music Hall of Fame in the Pioneer Category.