The 2020 Parade marked the 61st Anniversary of the Fancy Brigade Association. It was in 1960 that the Fancy Brigade Association was formed. Could those first Officers and Delegates have ever imagined the changes (some good, some not so good) that would take place over the next 49 years?
There are many who believe the Fancy Brigade Association came into existence at the time the Brigades formed their own Division in 1978. The Parade of 1978 stands out because it marks the official recognition of the Fancy Brigade Division by the City of Philadelphia. The Fancy Brigade Division is the youngest/newest of the four Divisions which make-up the New Year’s Day Parade (the others include the Comics, Fancy Clubs and String Bands). But the Fancy Brigades and the Fancy Brigade Association have been around long before 1978.
The Fancy Brigades were first formed in the early 1940’s. 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.
1950 marks the modern era of the Brigades. All prizes awarded since that time have been documented. As noted earlier, 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, 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 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 they had paraded second as part of the Fancy Division and the Comics, of course, 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 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.
The Fancy Brigade Association and its members will continue to strive to be a positive influence on both the New Year’s Day Parade and the neighborhoods which make up this great City. So make your reservations now to be at the Pennsylvania Convention Center on January 1st. Be there when Broadway meets Mardi Gras in a spectacular display of color and dance as the Fancy Brigades ring in the New Year as only Philadelphia can!!! A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL!!!!!
To learn more about our rich history, we encourage you to take a visit to the Mummers Museum located in South Philadelphia. There, you can learn more about the parade and its origins.
Past Presidents of the Fancy Brigade Association
- Joseph Walters
- William Harvey
- Jack Walsh
- William Keller Jr.
- Richard Herron Sr.
- Tom Cloney
- Jim Julia
- Jim Bradley
Written by: Jim Julia
Historical Consultant: Dominic Lazzaro, Jr.