Mummers’ unofficial anthem composed by local black musician

A photo illustration of James Bland

Sheet music cover for 'James Bland's 3 Great Songs, 1879. Scanned from Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth-Century America by Robert Toll.

Most people probably have never heard the name James A. Bland. But if you live in Philadelphia, you’ve heard at least one of his songs. 

“Oh, Dem Golden Slippers” — a tune Bland wrote in 1879 — is the unofficial anthem of the Mummers. It’s played every year at the start of the New Year’s Day parade.

In his time, Bland was a popular songwriter and minstrel performer. “The people who were performing as Mummers in the parade, they grew up listening to this music,” said Charles Carson, professor of musicology at the University of Texas in Austin.

The international showman eventually lost his fame and fortune when Vaudeville music became popular and pushed minstrel shows to the sidelines, but not before Bland made his mark on the music and culture of Philadelphia.

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Click the audio above to hear Carson discuss James Bland with WHYY’s Jennifer Lynn.

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