The Ferko String band has become a Philadelphia legend, formed in the 1920s by Joseph A. Ferko (1895-1964). When he was younger, Ferko worked at local a pharmacy owned by a doctor named Dr. John Fralinger. When the new craze called the Mummers Parade was starting in Philadelphia, Ferko asked his employer if the latter would like to sponsor a new string band. Dr. Fralinger agreed, and The Fralinger String Band was formed in the early 20th century. When Ferko grew up, he ended the Fralinger String Band and formed a new group called The Ferko String Band in 1923. The band became an active participant of the Mummers Parade, and since their inception, they have been the top marching band to grace the Parade. In its first 15 years they won the contest for an unprecedented 10 times. With their elaborate sound as well as costumes, the Ferko String Band became a national sensation, leading to several appearances on national television. They recorded a couple of successful singles in 1955, both of which entered the US Top 40, most notably “Alabama Jubilee.” Today, the 60-strong band with ages ranging from 15 to 80, continues to live to the tradition and spirit of their founder Joseph Ferko, actively performing in several states and globally.
Ferko String Band’s early years
“The Ferko String Band has been performing annually in the Philadelphia’s Mummers since its inception in the early 1920s. It has also achieved a few commercial hits on the Billboard chart, including “Heartbreaker,” “Alabama Jubilee” and “You Are My Sunshine.”
In 1905, Dr. John Fralinger hired Joseph A. Ferko (born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1895) as a stock boy at his pharmacy. In 1914 Ferko (who was also studying pharmacy at the time) asked Dr. Fralinger to provide his own string band some financial backing. After Dr. Fralinger agreed to sponsor him, Ferko led the Fralinger String Band for the next six years.
Ferko left Fralinger and opened his own pharmacy in 1921. The following year the Fralinger String Band collapsed and Ferko then formed a new group, the Ferko String Band along with Walter Butterworth and Charles Keegan.
In 1927 The Ferko String Band played their entry “Cards” in the string-band division, and achieved its first-ever win. Despite the fact that the Ferko String Band was (and is) Philadelphia’s main band, they also came on top from several contests held in the neighboring city York in Pennsylvania as well as New York City, Atlantic City, Baltimore and Washington. The band even had the opportunity to play for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1933 Presidential inauguration.
Ferko String Band’s recordings and achievements
The Ferko String Band started to record in 1947 for the newly-established Palda Records, owned by the Miller Brothers. Later that year, they issued “Dilly Dally Polka” as their debut single. They achieved their first chart entry in 1948, “Heartbreaker” which peaked at #21 on the national chart. King Records picked up the follow-up single “Four Leaf Clover” to distribute it nationally. In the spring of 1948, the band was also on the cover of Billboard Magazine which noted that their Palda recordings reached more than 350,000 copies.
The 50s music scene was the time they began to enter the chart. Their 1955 single “Alabama Jubilee” became their biggest hit, reaching #14 on the Billboard pop chart and selling more than a million copies. In Germany, their song “Happy Days Are Here Again” gained considerable success the following year, ranking at #15 there. Later also in 1955 their single “You Are My Sunshine” became their last Top 40 pop hit at #29. These tunes have become the staple of oldies music playlists today.
The band was subsequently sponsored by the Continental Baking Company during in the late 1950’s that kept them performing up to this recent date on every Philadelphia Mummers parade.
Joseph A. Ferko’s death and the band’s continuation
Founder Joseph A. Ferko died on April 19, 1964, aged 64 or 65. But even without his presence any longer, the band still soldiered on and vowed to carry his musical spirit and legacy for the years to come. In the current version of the band, the age of the members range from about 15 to 80, and together they have continued to play tunes that are specifically arranged for them to perform, especially on every Mummers Parade day.
The Ferko String Band has also performed in other places around the world such as France and Hong Kong. They also had a rare chance to perform in Communist Cuba in 1959.
They have also made some appearances both on the big and the small screen including the film Miracle and 34th Street and programs such as Good Morning America and Today.