The Man Called Thor Who Leads the Uptown String Band

This is not a spinoff of the famed Marvel character, but 26-year-old Jonathan ‘Thor’ McLaughlin is on his way to becoming a local hero.

The Bensalem native has had more than his fair share of struggles, including losing his father to pancreatic cancer while on six months old. Twelve years ago however, Thor started down a path that would ultimately shape his life for the better.

Thor McLaughlin Leading the Uptown String Band During Rehearsal

“I went to Bensalem High School which was down the street from the old Uptown String Band clubhouse and knew some kids who were in the band. They played a lot of complex jazz and Dixieland music which really interested and challenged me as a musician.”

It didn’t take long before Thor’s eyes were opened to what it was really like being involved with the Mummers.

“It was very unique; there is almost a subculture to it. There are parades and events you get to travel to and you are almost a celebrity when you travel to certain parts of the East Coast. I remember going up to Rhode Island and people just went nuts. It is pretty surreal.”

In 2011, Thor achieved two major accomplishments in Mummers culture, and was only 19-years-old at the time.

“In 2011 I won the Presidential Achievement Award for the first time, which is selected by the president of Uptown String Band. Earlier that year, I also became the Music Director for the Uptown String Band. It was really nice to get recognition for stepping up and taking over the position. Then in 2015, I won that same award again for my role in organizing most of the music and producing the production itself.”

It does not take long to see Thor’s dedication to his band, but the dedication does not stem from a wanting for recognition. This drive has blossomed from his desire to do the best possible job for his second family; the Uptown String Band.

McLaughlin Goes Step-for-Step with His Bandmates During a 2017 Parade Practice

“It was great having the band support me. There were a few times I couldn’t afford groceries and they would help, no questions asked. I remember one winter I couldn’t even afford oil to heat my house and three of the band members, without me knowing or even telling them about it, all pitched in to pay for my oil bill so I could have heat. People in the band know me so well, that even though I don’t show or talk about the struggle I was facing, they somehow know to be there for me.”

Not only have members of the Uptown String Band been able to support Thor in financial means, but they have also taken a mentor role in his life. One member in particular became a huge influence for the young band leader.

“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and it changed every year. One of the greatest influences I had was Jonathan Bojarski. He is a genius sax player and Jon was playing all this great music and playing with artists while still having a career as a radiologist. It’s because of him that I realized I could keep music and the Mummers as a passion and a huge part of my life without making it a career choice. That idea keeps music a source of fun and joy for me instead of a job.”

If there is one thing that Thor maintains about the Mummers, and his band in particular, is that there is far more to being a Mummer then just performing on New Year’s Day. There is also a sense that members across the organization are tired of being judged in a negative light resulting from last year’s parade.

“I think that what is really interesting is that most people only see us one day a year on New Year’s Day, and they don’t know we are preparing every other day of the year. We have people ranging from 12 to 74 years old that come from all walks of life; this includes contractors, doctors, and lawyers. Yet people still typecast us because of the actions of a few dumb people when at least with my group, nobody is malicious and they are all great people.”
Michael Rubinson