Skip to main content

South Slavic Americans

Like other ethnic or immigrant communities in the United States, South Slavs (Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, and Macedonians of Yugoslavia as well as Bulgarians) cherish, nurture, and thoroughly enjoy the musical traditions of their homeland. In any city with a South Slavic communiy, on almost any weekend of the year, one will more than likely find a variety of ongoing musical events. Something is sure to be going on at one of the churches or lodge halls. At a Slovenian or Croatian Catholic church, there might be a performance by a button-box accordion group, a choir, or a tamburitza ensemble, while at a Serbian or Macedonian Orthodox church musicians play an accordion or clarinet backed by rhythm instruments for dancing. In addition, there are fraternal lodge halls and taverns that feature similar kinds of music; here one can listen to a song, join in a line dance, or grab a partner to enjoy a polka or waltz. Throughout the summer, there is sure to be a lamb roast at a church or lodge picnic grove.

As members of veteran ensembles drop out, owing to health or personal reasons, their places are often filled by players young enough to be their children. In many cases they are in fact sons or daughters of musicians, in family combos entirely composed of parents and children or siblings. There are ensembles of young musicians in which every member is the child of an ethnic musician. Even the children of "mixed" marriages, that is of a South Slav to an individual of some other ethnic group, seem to gravitate more to the South Slavic traditions than to those of their other parent. Thus it is not uncommon to find South Slavic musicians with Irish or Polish last names, children who grew up absorbed in the South Slavic community through ties in the maternal line.

Though the music is certainly not dying out, it is definitely evolving - change being a sure sign of its vitality. South Slavic musicians play the music of their own nationality, and whatever other music is pleasing to them. American popular songs, country and western numbers, and big band jazz tunes have entered the repertoires of South Slavic bands. Only certain melodies from other genres are appealing and meet the aesthetic criteria of the musical traditions. These find a lasting place in the repertoire, sometimes even becoming translated into a Slavic language. This filtering process assures that South Slavic American music will remain distinct from other American music while sharing some musical traits and repertoire with other traditions.

At the 1981 Festival, music and dance ensembles from Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, and Wisconsin brought Balkan and South Slavic traditions to life, drawing Festival visitors onto the dance floor to join the fun.

Previous | Next >

Support the Folklife Festival, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, sustainability projects, educational outreach, and more.