There was a Kensington String Band back in the 1920’s, however, Greater Kensington has no connection to the old group. GKSB started in 1946 on Front Street below Lehigh Avenue and moved to a location atop the Cumberland Sho-bar at Kensington Avenue and “A” Street beneath the Frankford Elevated. In 1960 the band relocated and established its headquarters at 2444 “D” Street. The “D” Street Club has a history and legend all its own. The band is a charter member of the Philadelphia Mummers String Band Association and as such can never change its name. So when the band moved in 1966 to Tacony, it still proudly carried the name of Greater Kensington String Band. For the past fifty years, the band has owned its own headquarters at 7235 Edmund Street (Cottman & Edmund).
Greater “K” had found a home in Northeast Philadelphia and very quickly became involved with community activities. The band has joined with the Mayfair Optimist Club and the Mayfair-Holmesburg Merchants Association to sponsor and help organize the Annual Thanksgiving Day Parade on Frankford Avenue since 1974. Actually, the band’s involvement in this neighborhood parade goes back to 1967.
Many talented and dedicated members have passed through the door of the “club” in the past fifty years. Likewise, scores of social members and families have been there to support the band’s effort to maintain its position as a quality Mummers organization. In 1975 the band acquired a catering club license making it available for rentals for all occasions. Most would agree, it is a great place to hold a party.
While New Year’s Day is the band’s big event of the year, the group has performed nationally and internationally with distinction. GKSB has performed in Tennessee, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, all the New England States, as well as New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, and of course throughout Pennsylvania. Some of the highlights of the band’s storied history include performances at the Ice Carnival in Quebec, the Carnival de Libertad in Cuba, Oktoberfest in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, the P. T. Barnum Festival in Connecticut and the Nebraska State Fair. The band was proud to march in the Miss America Parade, to perform on stage on the Merv Griffin Show as well as a command performance at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. with Charlie Daniels and the Rockettes in 1991. In 2004 the band performed in front of a live crowd of 280,000 people in the Chinese New Year Parade in Hong Kong.
Greater Kensington’s varied history has seen the members play in the Wilmington Opera House, to appear on the same bill with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and to play across the Brooklyn Bridge when it was re-dedicated several years ago. The band’s crowning moment came in 1983 when it was selected to represent the East Coast and was one of only four bands to perform at the National Sports Festival held at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. The group was named the championship band and was personally congratulated by Bob Hope, the Olympic Committee Co-Chairman.
Through it all, it has been a labor of love. A piece of many men and women made it all possible. Dedicated and talented musicians, hard-working non-playing marshals, leaders with vision, the support and love of family and friends, this is the GREATER KENSINGTON STRING BAND!
Compiled by Joe Deighan & Jim “Charlie” Murray