An exciting new exhibit, Philadelphia Mummers – Struttin’ Their Stuff - is now open at the American Banjo Museum in Oklahoma City’s historic Bricktown district. Showcasing the music, history and flamboyant costumes that have been the trademarks of the Mummers for over 100 years, this unique exhibit brings the spirit of New Year’s Day in Philadelphia to America’s heartland.
The Mummers Parade – held in Philadelphia on January 1st each year since 1901 – is recognized as the longest continuously running folk festival in America. Although Mummer roots go back to Greek mythology and English theater of the 1300s, it was the immigration melting pot of Philadelphia, which melded music, masquerade and camaraderie into the city’s unique Mummer culture. When Mummer celebrations of the past began including firearms as noisemakers as well as chaotic revelry, the city incorporated the Mummers into their annual New Year’s Day parade – and the tradition began.
The banjo’s role in the Mummer hierarchy goes back to introduction of a String Band division to the parade in the early 1900s. Dressed in elaborate costumes and playing banjos and saxophones – all while doing the distinctive Mummer’s Strut, the String Bands are the most popular and populated of the five Mummer divisions. While early costumes were homemade, a modern Mummer String Band spends between $30,000 and $80,000 annually for themed costumes designed to be more elaborate and breathtaking than the year before.
Philadelphia Mummers – Struttin’ Their Stuff includes many of those dazzling and colorful costumes ranging from sequin bejeweled clowns and jesters to a kid friendly and sparkling version of Frankenstein. Pairing costumes with rare vintage photos, an interesting Mummer history and a video salute to Mummers through the years, the exhibit celebrates a one-of-a-kind American musical tradition.