The Fancy Brigades
The Fancy Brigades were first formed in the early 1940s. At that time they were referred to as “Groups”. In 1947 they became known as Brigades. The Brigades paraded as part of the Fancy Division and were soon referred to as Fancy Brigades.
All Fancy Brigades belonged to a Fancy Club as part of the Fancy Division. The Brigades referred to the Fancy Club they belonged to as the “Mother Club”. Each Mother Club had approximately five Brigades. While the Brigades competed against each other, the points they were awarded were part of the Fancy Club’s overall total.
The year 1950 marks the modern era of the Brigades. All prizes awarded since that time have been documented. The Fancy Brigade Association was formed in 1960. The Association was formed for many reasons, but most notably to provide a single voice for the Brigades, as well as design the rules for competition. In 1963 the Fancy Brigade Association instituted the awarding of Captain Prizes starting with the 1964 Parade.
Following the 1977 Parade, members of the Fancy Brigade Association made the courageous decision to go to the City of Philadelphia with a request to form their own Division. The move was a show of unity by the Brigades led by their Association. One of the Brigades was to be dropped by the Mother Club for not scoring enough points. Without a Mother (Fancy) Club a Brigade could not compete in the Fancy Brigade competition. The Brigades no longer wanted their ability to take part in the parade to be so dependent on another Division.
The City was initially reluctant to approve the request. They felt a new division would lengthen the time of the parade. But after months of discussion the City granted the Brigades their wish under one condition, they parade last in line behind the String Bands (prior to this, they had paraded second as part of the Fancy Division and the Comics led off the parade).
The decision did not get off to a good start. On January 1, 1978 it started to snow soon after the parade kicked off at Broad & Oregon and continued throughout the day. By the time the Brigades reached City Hall (well past dark), the drill area was covered with snow. To add insult to injury a fire in the vicinity of Broad & Locust forced the parade to detour off Broad Street for several blocks.
Needless to say things got better. The Brigades changed how they designed their costumes and presentations to take advantage of parading “under the lights”. As the years went on the performances became more elaborate with floats the size of buildings.
If the decision to break-away and form their own Division was viewed as courageous, what came next seemed downright crazy. In 1997 the Brigades voted to move their show indoors to the Pennsylvania Convention Center for a “finale” after the Broad Street Parade. The indoor show would be the “judged” event. Despite many who said it could not be done, the 1998 Parade was viewed as a complete success.
In the Philadelphia Daily News the following day, columnist Ron Goldwyn referred to the ‘98 Parade as the “Year of the Fancy Brigades”.
After sold out shows in 1998, 1999 & 2000, the Brigades again took a bold step and added a second show at noon starting with the 2001 Parade. Also in 2001 the Brigades instituted the Dan Lerro Cup to be awarded each New Year’s Night to the winning Brigade. The Cup was named after a man of class who was dear to all Mummers and one of our biggest fans. The Dan Lerro Cup in Stanley Cup fashion includes all the Fancy Brigade Champions including theme name since 1950. In 2016 the name of the Cup was changed to the Jim Julia Cup, out of respect to a man who was the President of the Association for the previous 11 years and died suddenly. Ironically he was the man who initiated the Dan Lero Cup. Jim was the driving force in the overall expansion of the brigades and provided leadership in bringing the five divisions Presidents together to work as one.
In 2003 the move indoors looked even better when driving rainstorms cancelled the outdoor event. For that day the Fancy Brigades were the only game in town!
In the 2005 Parade the Brigades again showed that they could do what many said could not be done. March on Broad Street and do both shows in the Convention Center. All eleven Brigades performed in the Noon show at the convention Center, joined their fellow mummers from the other three divisions on Broad Street, and arrived back in the Convention Center in time to perform the 5:00PM Show.
The Fancy Brigade Association and its members will continue to strive to be a positive influence on both the Philadelphia Mummers Parade and the neighborhoods which make up this great City.