Jesse "Butch" Durning, 55, of Lansford, and his son, Charles Durning of New Philadelphia, have spent a majority of their lifetime continuing a family tradition, one that has warmed the hearts – and ears – of thousands of parade-watchers over the last 75 years.
The family has logged over a hundred combined years performing with the Durning String Band in the annual New Year's Mummers Parade in Philadelphia.
That world-famous parade, which started in the late 1800s, features over 10,000 performers. A highlight and parade staple has been the colorful Mummers, who welcome in the New Year with their elaborate costumes and music.
Sunday, as the pageant moves straight through Center City on Broad Street, the Durning band will be in the 15th spot of the fifth division.
The Durning band was established on Jan. 1, 1935 by Jesse Durning's great uncle, James A. Durning. Jesse Durning, a Philadelphia and New Jersey native, has spent the last 36 years volunteering with the New Jersey-based band and carrying on the Durning tradition.
Family members and close friends have also spent many hours – even years of their lives – helping Jesse Durning carry on the tradition by volunteering with year-round functions and performances.
September is the start of the band's heavy training and preparation for the more than 60 costumed musicians and 30 parade volunteers, also known as marshals. They spend 11 months out of the year preparing for their themed New Year's parade performance.
The camaraderie among band members is evident at the practices, which are held in a large warehouse in Oaklyn, N.J. During break opportunities, members were eager to share stories about their past parades and performances.
Although Jesse and Charles are the only remaining band members currently carrying the Durning name, over 60 percent of band members are closely related.
"The Durning String Band are like the mafia, once you're in, you're in," joked Rick Muraresku, president of the band for four years.
He said the band currently has seven members enrolled in the Mummers Hall of Fame.
The band's 2012 Mummers Parade performance, called "Durning's Wheelie Motorvated," includes colorful Styrofoam race cars, dancing performers and crashes, all choreographed with the music of the band. Eddie Lynch, band treasurer, who has family ties to Jim Thorpe, said the band couldn't do its job without the "men in black," or marshals, whose job is to move all the equipment through the long parade route.
Many of the marshals are local family members and friends. The current "men in black" include Jesse Durning, who previously performed in parades as a dancer and musician; his sons Charles Durning and Frank Latham; son-in-law Matt Greenly of Clamtown; and friends Frank Tongue and his son Zac, 11, of Lansford.
The climax of the 10-hour, five-division parade which consists of comics, wench brigades, fancies, string bands and fancy brigades takes place at City Hall and the PA Convention Center, where the judging is conducted. This is also where the Durning String Band will give its performance and hopefully, take home a portion of the $395,000 in prizes.
For more information about the Durning String Band, visit www.DurningStringBand.com