Becky Livermore and Terry Ard
Becky and the Ivanhoe Dutchmen, Mt. Vernon, polka band
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The upper Midwest became the heart of polka country in the late 19th century. Influenced by Czech (Bohemian) traditions as well as those of Scandinavians, Anglo-Celts, and Poles, polka bands played for weddings, house parties, and local celebrations. The exuberant style of vocalist and concertina player “Whoopee John” Wilfahrt of New Ulm, MN introduced the polka to the regional and then the national scene in early twentieth century. In particular, the “Deutsch” (German) bands of the Midwest truly defined the “Dutchman” style.
From the 1920s through the 1950s, the heyday for this music, a variety of home-grown polka bands toured Iowa. The popularity of brass bands combined with the polka craze to produce a new and characteristically American form.
Iowa polka music today includes a mix of big band and Dutchmen style groups. A strong rhythm, melodic emphasis, and clear round notes characterize the Dutchman style. Czech bands have a similar affinity for the melodic line, making for a successful blending of those styles.
Becky and the Ivanhoe Dutchmen perform Czech and German polkas at dances and festivals across the Midwest and beyond. Featured at the Smithsonian’s 1996 Festival of American Folklife, the Sesquicentennial and 2001 Festivals of Iowa Folklife, and the Iowa Arts Council’s Cultural Express program, the group consists of accordion and vocals (Becky), drums, tuba and one or more horn players. “Barefoot” Becky, who grew up in Mt. Vernon, took her first accordion lesson at age ten Esther Zvacek. When she was 12, she had her first job with Ed Ulch and the Jolly Bohemians from Solon, IA. By the time she was 18, she started her own band with Terry Ard and other area musicians.
Polka is, above all, about community. And Polka dance clubs make sure their members know where and when bands will be playing. Get on Becky’s list by visiting her website or attend the annual Beckster Fest in the Amana Colonies.