Remembering Henry Repka
Henry Joe Repka, 76, of Hallettsville, son of Martha and Herman Repka was born on April 29, 1942. He passed away peacefully on Tuesday, August 21, 2018. A life-long musician, Henry’s love and passion for music began at an early age. He played alto saxophone in the Hallettsville Sacred Heart School band and played with several local bands during his high school years. One of the more noteworthy bands was the Worthing Band from the Wied area southwest of Hallettsville.
After graduating from Victoria Business School, Henry moved to Houston where he joined Clarence Baca’s Orchestra. Performing with Clarence for many years, Henry sharpened his music skills along with his networking skills as he was introduced to many musicians in their travels. Lodge 88 had a very large orchestra at that time and Henry was a member of it which increased his musical skills and learing to accompany the Lodge choir.
In 1973, Henry struck out on his own, forming The Music Kings. The band was versatile enough to play whatever the crowd wanted, be it polkas and waltzes, country, and a little rock and roll. The east side of Houston with its blue-collar workers needing to get out and dance in a hall provided the perfect venue for The Music Kings. The dance halls in Houston, Crosby, Baytown, Pasadena, and La Marque heard their brand of dance music regularly from the mid-1970s to the early '90s.
The cornerstone of Gulf Coast dancing, The Vrazel Ballroom in Danbury saw the band monthly and a place called The P & L let everyone know that Henry was coming with his saxophone by the advertisements. All during this time period he was steadily expanding his mastery of instruments with the tenor saxophone, trumpet, and clarinet. He was also recording music to satisfy his fans requests and for the DJs to play on the air.
In the early '90s, he formed his self-titled group, The Henry Repka Band, which focused more on old-time polka and country music. This paid off, for in 1991 he was awarded the Male Vocalist of the Year by the Texas Polka Music Association and was recognized for the Song of the Year, Band of the Year, Instrumentalist of the Year for reeds, and Album of the Year for the album On Track.
In the late 1980s to early '90s, Henry’s band underwent a couple of name changes, from Wilderness to Henry Repka Polka Band, as music trends changed from polka to country/ western and back to polka again. The focus back to polka music paid off, for in 1991 he was awarded the Male Vocalist of the Year by the Texas Polka Music Association and was recognized for the Song of the Year, Band of the Year, Instrumentalist of the Year for reeds, and Album of the Year for the album On Track.
In 1999, Henry and his wife, Betty, moved to Sealy to slow down a little, but you can’t keep a good musician idle. He began sitting in with the Music Masters and The Lazy Farmers when they needed a good sax player. Bennie Okruhlik, Allan McConnell, and Henry would show up when a small combo was needed to play for special occasions. Allan was his son-in-law.
Henry produced his first record on Ray Doggett’s Guide label and Henry's son, Bruce, remembers he and his older sister trying to wear the grooves off of the Go To Sleep My Children Waltz. They soon learned the Czech lyrics and were singing it all the time. Bruce had been accompanying his father to gigs and was learning the accordion. When his father thought that Bruce knew the song in Czech well enough, he was put in front of the microphone and sang it in public. This was the beginning of Bruce playing music with his father professionally and continued for many years.
Several years ago, Bruce and Henry produced a CD entitled S Pánem Bohem, Sunday Polkas, a CD of instrumentals with Henry on sax, and Bruce on accordion. A wonderful finish to Henry’s six-plus decades of playing music.
Henry had a weakness for dogs, particularly strays. He became known as the “dog man of Hollyvale” because of his love and companionship with his dogs. Hollyvale is the street they lived on in Aldine. Over the years he loved and nurtured many rescued dogs that became his traveling buddies when commuting between Houston or Sealy and Hallettsville.
Henry is survived by his wife of 55 years, Betty Bennett Repka; daughter, Rhonda Lynn and husband Allan McConnell; son, Bruce Alan Repka and wife Shara Bueler-Repka; grandson,