Home » Uncategorized » John Philip Sousa and “The Stars and Stripes Forever”

John Philip Sousa and “The Stars and Stripes Forever”

     John Philip Sousa (November 6, 1854 – March 6, 1932) was an American composer and conductor known primarily for American military and patriotic marches who is known as “The March King.”   Sousa was born in Washington, D.C., on November 6, 1854, to John Antonio Sousa, who was of Portugese ancestry, and Maria Elisabeth Trinkhaus, who was of Bavarian ancestry, and began his career at the age of six playing violin as a pupil of John Esputa and studying music theory, harmony, and composition under George Felix Benkert. He was found to have absolute pitch. During his childhood, Sousa studied voice, violin, piano, flute, cornet, baritone horn, trombone and alto horn.  His father, a trombonist in the Marine Band,  eventually enlisted him at the age of thirteen in the United States Marine Band as an apprentice musician in 1868 to keep him from joining a circus band. After serving his apprenticeship and  departing the band in 1875, Sousa joined a theatrical (pit) orchestra and eventually learned to conduct.

     On December 30, 1879, Sousa married Jane van Middlesworth Bellis (1862–1944).  They had three children.   He returned to the U.S. Marine Band as its head in 1880 and remained as its conductor until 1892; he was a Sergeant Major for most of his second period of Marine service.. Sousa led “The President’s Own” band under five presidents from Rutherford B. Hayes to Benjamin Harrison. Sousa’s band played at two Inaugural Balls, those of James A. Garfield in 1881, and Benjamin Harrison in 1889.   The marching brass bass tuba, or sousaphone, a modified helicon, was created by J. W. Pepper, a Philadelphia instrument maker who created the instrument in 1893 at Sousa’s request using several of his suggestions in its design. He wanted a tuba that could sound upward and over the band whether its player was seated or marching. The sousaphone was re-created in 1898 by C.G. Conn and this was the model that Sousa preferred to use.

     Sousa organized The Sousa Band the year he left the Marine Band. The Sousa Band toured from 1892–1931, performing at 15,623 concerts.   In Paris, the Sousa Band marched through the streets including the Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe, one of only eight parades the band marched in over its forty years. The band played for sold-out crowds both in America and around the world, including at the World Exposition in Paris, France. During World War I, he was commissioned a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve and led the Navy Band at the Great Lakes Naval Station near Chicago, Illinois.  Being independently wealthy, he donated his entire naval salary minus one dollar a year to the Sailors’ and Marines’ Relief Fund. After returning to his own band at the end of the war, he continued to wear his naval uniform for most of his concerts and other public appearances.

     Late in his life, Sousa lived in Sands Point, N Y. Sousa died of heart failure at the age of 77 on March 6, 1932, in his room at the Abraham Lincoln Hotel in Reading, PA. He had conducted a rehearsal of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” the previous day with the Ringgold Band. He is buried in Washington, DC’s Congressional Cemetery.   He was posthumously enshrined in the Hall of Fame for Great Americans in 1973, one of just 102 Americans ever to be honored in such a manner.  Sousa wrote 136 marches, published by the Sam Fox Publishing Company beginning in 1917 and continuing until his death.   Among his best-known marches are “Semper Fidelis,” the Official March of the United States Marine Corps, and “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” the National March of the United States of America.  He also wrote many notable operettas from which many marches and waltzes have been derived.  

     Works by Sousa in my collection include the following:

                The Belle of Chicago March. 

                The Bride Elect: Waltzes and Tarantella. 

                Bullets and Bayonets March. 

                Chris and the Wonderful Lamp: Jack Tar March.

                The Coquette Caprice. 

                The Crusader. 

                The Daughters of Texas March. 

                The Diplomat March. 

                Dwellers of the Western World. 

                El Capitan (operetta): El Capitan March and Selections. 

                Fairest of the Fair March. 

                The Federal March. 

                The Gladiator March.    

                The Gliding Girl Tango. 

                Hail to the Spirit of Liberty March. 

                Hands Across the Sea. 

                High School Cadets. 

                Humoresque on Gershwin’s Swanee. 

                Humoresque on Kern’s Look for the Silver Lining. 

                The Invincible Eagle March. 

                The Irish Dragoon: Overture and Circus Galop. 

                King Cotton March. 

                La Reine de la Mare Waltzes.

                The Liberty Bell. 

                Manhattan Beach. 

                Myrrha Gavotte. 

                Nymphalin Reverie. 

                On Wings of Lightning Galop. 

                Our Flirtations: Overture and March. 

                Peaches and Cream Foxtrot. 

                People Who Live in Glass Houses Ballet. 

                The Power and Glory March. 

                The Presidential Polonaise. 

                Sacred Selection: Songs from Grace and Songs from Glory. 

                Sandalphon Waltzes. 

                Semper Fidelis March.

                Silver Spray Schottische. 

                The Stars and Stripes Forever March. 

                Three Quotations. 

                The Thunderer March. 

                U. S. Field Artillery. 

                Venus March. 

                The Washington Post March.


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