The Leo Majek Orchestra was founded in 1897 by Leo Majek, Sr., in his native Slavkov, Moravia (present-day Czech Republic). The ensemble has performed for more than 110 years through four generations of the musical family that has continued to play as the Leo Majek Orchestra from their home base in Corpus Christi. They have earned their reputation as one of the most enduring polka bands in Texas.
In 1897, twelve-year-old Leo Majek, with an ear for tunes and a knack with an accordion, began to play for weddings and parties in his hometown of Slavkov, Moravia. He would return from his work at a sugar factory, pick up the accordion, and walk to a party or dance to provide the music. He married his wife Rosie in 1908, and eventually the couple had six sons and one daughter. Four years later, with Europe on the verge of World War I, the family decided to emigrate to the United States. Leo traveled first and made a twenty-nine-day voyage to Galveston. His family joined him a year later, on the last ship to leave Europe before the war.
The Majek family settled in Central Texas near the town of Cameron, where they rented a farm and raised cotton. Leo Majek continued to play the accordion for local events as he had in the old country. The six Majek sons—Julius, John, Leo Jr., Charlie, Frank, and Joe—began to mature, and one by one they learned to play instruments and joined their father. Son John was seven when he started playing the accordion. By the age of twelve he had joined his father in traveling to musical engagements. John recalled playing for 25 cents per night during the Depression and commented, “When we had success it went up to 50 cents.” Son Leo was nine years old when he began his musical career behind the drums.
The Leo Majek Orchestra called Cameron home until 1940, when they relocated to Corpus Christi as Leo Majek, Sr., found work in a shipyard. Some of the sons became members of the orchestra in the mid-1940s, after World War II. Frank Majek joined in 1947 as a trumpet player. The Majek sons had little formal schooling in music. They didn’t hold practice sessions or have musical scores but relied instead on their natural ability and enthusiasm. The band enjoyed success and popularity during the second half of the twentieth century. Patriarch and founder Leo Majek, Sr., died in Corpus Christi on January 21, 1976, but his sons and grandchildren carried on the family’s musical legacy.
In 1978 the Leo Majek Orchestra made a very successful European tour and took their music back to the homeland. Stops on the tour also included Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, and Italy. In 1992 the orchestra was recognized with the Texas Polka Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award for the “Family band dedicated to preserving and promoting polka music for 95 years.” With the commemoration of the orchestra’s 100th anniversary in 1997, the House of Representatives of the Seventy-fifth Texas Legislature presented a resolution recognizing the Leo Majek Orchestra as the “longest-performing Czech family orchestra in the country.” As part of its centennial celebration, the band performed on February 22, 1997, at the Czech Heritage Festival in Corpus Christi.
In 2006, of the six Majek sons, Leo Jr. and Charlie were still playing in the orchestra. Julius, Frank, and Joe Majek were deceased, and John Majek had retired because of poor eyesight. Still very much a family band, at that time the members were Leo Majek, Jr. (accordion), Charlie Majek (drums), Michael Majek (trumpet, son of Charlie), Jerry Majek (bass and band manager, son of John), Martha Ann Majek (piano, wife of Jerry Majek), Jerome Majek (bass horn, lead guitar, son of Jerry and Martha and fourth generation), and Randy Majek (guitar, son of Frank).
Two of the surviving Majek sons passed away in 2010. Charlie Majek, Sr., died on October 24, 2010. In addition to performing as drummer for the orchestra for sixty-five years, he had served in the United States Army infantry during World War II and was awarded two Bronze Stars during the Pacific Campaign and two Bronze Stars in the Philippines Liberation. John Majek died on December 8, 2010, at the age of ninety-six. His tenure as accordionist in the Leo Majek Orchestra lasted an astounding eighty-eight years.
Throughout the years, the Leo Majek Orchestra recorded four albums, two 8-tracks, two cassettes, sixteen singles, and a video. In 2015 the Leo Majek Orchestra was inducted into the South Texas Music Walk of Fame, and a new generation carried on the family's musical tradition.