Jimmy Brosch, an esteemed Texas polka performer and historian, died Monday of complications following a heart attack; he was 89.
Brosch was a champion for preserving the rich polka history of central Texas. Two years ago he collaborated with writer Theresa Cernoch Parker on “Jimmy Brosch Remembers Twenty Legendary Texas Czech Polka Bands,” a book and accompanying CD that documented the lives, music and culture of musicians who played polka throughout the state.
“The whole reason we were able to do this book was because Jimmy knew so many people and their families and could so easily connect with them,” Parker said. “People were always more than willing to talk to Jimmy and share their stories.
“We both had a love for polka and were able to preserve some of its history.”
Brosch grew up in Praha, between Flatonia and Schulenburg, where weekend entertainment largely consisted of live polka bands performing for local Czech communities because, Brosch said, big bands tended to play the more developed urban centers. He recalled the performances typically being free or very inexpensive. “If you charged more money, people’d quit coming,” Brosch said.
Brosch got his start on an inexpensive fiddle, which fit the country music he favored. Eventually he picked up the saxophone, which would become his primary instrument. But Brosch still found a way to fuse the country music he loved with polka, which reflected his heritage. One of his polka bands featured a steel guitar.
Polka was something most of its practitioners did out of affinity for the music.
“You just couldn’t make a living playing in a polka band, no kind of way,” Brosch said. “You really had to love it if you wanted to stay with it.”
Brosch “was in it until the end,” said Parker. He suffered the heart attack while en route to a fund-raising concert on Feb. 24.
In addition to his career as a working musician, Brosch worked nearly four decades at the Southern Pacific Railroad. After his retirement he continued to play music and also began tracking down the great polka players of his generation and the generation that preceded him. He traveled around the state, but found most of the earliest polka greats had died.
“People kind of forgot about these bands, “ says Brosch. “We used to dance to their music, we played with them at dances, and all of the sudden, they’ve just been forgotten. I decided to try to bring them back.”
Brosch is survived by Lucy, his wife of 64 years, four children and two grandchildren.