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Polish Musicians From Texas

John Louis Meleski

by Linda Meleski Harris on August 4, 2009

in Articles, Musicians Bio, Polish Texans

John was born in Chappell Hill Texas, Washington County June 11, 1897. He moved to Houston, Texas in 1921 at the age of 24, with his young Chappell Hill bride, Nora Meleski. They eventually had two children Victoria and Florian, and settled on Aurora Street, in the then suburbs of Houston. John worked and retired from Humble Oil Company in downtown Houston.

Johnny’s passion was playing the fiddle and he did so bringing his polish musical roots to Chappell Hill, Houston and the surrounding areas. He wasn’t just a smooth fiddler; he was equally talented on the upright bass. His fingers gracefully traveled along the fingerboard and neck of the instrument to provide that lovely and familiar bass sound. The same passion was used when he pulled the bow across the strings of the fiddle. John composed several songs, none of them having official names. However, one of his compositions carries on today at the very capable hands of Brian Marshall who appropriately named the song, “John Meleski Special”.

His love of music eventually spawned the creation of a band he named “The White Eagles.” They played for family and friends weddings, and in those days they were often held in the home of the bride. His daughter Victoria recalls times when celebrations where a bit much for a weary youngster and she lay her head in her mother’s lap, lulled to sleep by her daddy’s fiddle music. Although he was a druzba at many a wedding, he also enjoyed playing at other social events as well; including the Polish Home on 6th Street in the Houston Heights. Victoria also recalls her daddy putting the fiddle down a time or two, hopping down from the band stand and dancing with her. He clearly had a zeal for life.

As most fathers, John’s desire was to teach his son to play; and he did. He wanted him to join the band, but they didn’t need another fiddler, so he bought Florian a guitar and helped him along. When the time was right, his son joined the band. At the same time, John added another young musician to the band. A talented accordion player named Sigmund Jozwiak. They played music for many years before John put the fiddle down.

As John’s hands began to stiffen from age, he began to carry a set of Chinese Baoding Balls. He used them to exercise his hands and fingers, helping to keep them limber. He wanted to be ready to play the music of his heritage. And when he did so, it was from his heart and with great pride.

As time passed and his fingers gave in to the arthritis, his son Florian and Sigmund continued the tradition, eventually changing the name of the band to the Polish Eagles. They too became well known for their talents.

John’s love of the fiddle continues through the talents of his granddaughter, Barbara Meleski. You may have heard her play, as she sometimes accompanies Brian Marshall for a fiddling song or two. Barbara recalls one of her greatest compliments as being that from an elderly man. He came up to her after she had stepped down from the band stand, and with a gleam in his eyes said to her. “You play fiddle just like your grandfather. Nobody could play like Johnny and it’s been a long time since I’ve heard the beautiful sound only he could make. He would be proud.”

June 11, 1897 ~ July 2, 1968

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