Emil Korbelik was born in 1902. His love of music started at an early age of four, and started him on a career that has lasted a lifetime. At the age of four, he played around on a 2 row accordion his dad had. His mother told him if you can’t keep your hands off of that accordion, you’re going to learn to play it. Emil played his first dance at the age of 10 for his Aunt Mary Jirsa’s wedding.
In 1912, his father bought him a brass cornet and his uncle Frank Richling taught him how to play it. He was invited to rehearse with the brass band in Milligan and in 1913, he finally made the band.
In 1915, Emil organized an orchestra to play in. They had 23 cornets and no trombones, so he had to learn to play trombone which eventually allowed him to play in many bands and orchestra.
In 1917, Emil learned to play the tuba, which came about as an interesting story: His uncle Henry, who was a bass player, decided to quit playing bass because, as Emil puts it, some drunk idiot told his uncle Henry, “If you can’t play any better than that, then you should quit!” Uncle Henry quit playing late at night during a mascaraed dance at a hall in Milligan. So Emil’s uncle Frank told him to pick up the bass horn and play it. Emil told him that he didn’t know how to play it. Uncle Frank said, “You’ll learn it in the next 5 minutes”, and so he did. Emil played bass horn for the next 10 years, until someone else learned to play it.
In 1931, Jess Thompson organized a band called the Jazz Pirates and asked Emil to be a regular. About a year and a half later, Jess had to go back to Pennsylvania and never came back, so Emil became the leader of the Jazz Pirates, which consisted of six men, ages 18-20. Emil said they all wanted to run the band but one by one, they were replaced and he got people that wanted to play rather than run a band.
Emil had his own family band until the girls got married. As the children got old enough, he taught them how to play and they filled in the vacancies. He also taught his first wife how to play drums. This band was intact until 1951.
When he left Milligan, he turned the band over to his brother Frank. In 1965, Emil was asked by Math Sladky to play on his band as a regular. Emil replied if Math would promote Czech music, he would. Math did and Emil set out on a stint with the Math Sladky orchestra that took him to all parts of the country. Emil was 63 years old when he joined the orchestra, and only missed 7 jobs in the 17 years he played for the orchestra (not bad considering Math played about 100 dates a year). During this time, he also played in 11 of Math’s recordings. He was a workhorse on music and arrangements of which he wrote several of them. He was a great inspiration to Math and all the guys on the band. Math says he was a trademark as the man with the Derby Hat. Math says people ask about him to this day.
Emil quit playing in 1982 due to excessive dental work at the age of 80.
Source: Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony