JOHN PHILIP SOUSA
John Philip Sousa was born in Washington, D.C. on 6 November 1854, of a Portuguese father (Antonio Sousa, who had enlisted in the Marine Band in 1854) and a German mother (Elizabeth Trinkhouse Sousa). He began his musical education at the age of six in Washington, D.C., under Professor John Esputa and G.F. Benkert, and later studied at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the age of 11, he first appeared as violin soloist. He began his career in the United States Marine Band at the age of 13, serving as an apprentice "boy" who had enlisted to receive instruction "in the trade or mystery of a musician." At 15, he was teaching harmony. Prior to his being appointed Leader of the Marine Band, he directed various theatrical and operatic companies.
The records of Marine Corps Headquarters show the following enlistments of John Philip Sousa; 9 June 1868 to 31 December 1871; 8 July 1872 to 18 May 1875; 1 October 1880 to 30 September 1885; 2 October 1885 to 1 October 1890; and 2 October 1890 to 30 July 1892.
On 1 January 1879, John Philip Sousa married Miss Jan Van M. Bellis, a singer of Philadelphia, appearing with the company of which he was director.
Sousa became leader of the Marine Band on 1 October 1880. The Marine Band made its first concert tour of the United States, visiting the eastern and middle states in 1891, and the Pacific coast in 1892. These tours gave the people of the United States an excellent opportunity to know John Philip Sousa, and to hear the United States Marine Band.
Sousa's personality, his musical and executive ability were instrumental in making the Marine Band a familiar and popular musical organization to residents and visitors of the Nation's Capitol. During the twelve years Sousa served as Leader, the Marine Band played at open air concerts at the White House Grounds, at the Capitol Plaza, state dinners, receptions at the White House, diplomatic and other public affairs.
In November 1889, the Marine Band, under Sousa, furnished the music on the occasion of the "Centennial Celebration of the Ratification of the Constitution of the United States by North Carolina" at Fayetteville, North Carolina. In their second appearance in North Carolina, dedicating the "Mechlenburg Declaration of Independence," the Marine Band, under Sousa, opened the ceremonies with the "Star Spangled Banner" and as an encore to each number on the program, the Band played "Dixie" which was "received with wild acclaim."
During his service with the U.S. Marine Band, Sousa received the praise of five Presidents: Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland, and Benjamin Harrison. On 30 July 1892, he resigned from the Marine Band in order to organize a band of his own.
In his book, Marching Along, Sousa gives accounts of the activities of the Marine Band as well as those of the newly organized band of his own. Sousa, the "March King," received decorations from several countries in honor of his genius as a composer and as a band leader, among them were the Victorian Order (British), the Grand Diploma of Honor of the Academy of Heinhault (Belguim), the French decoration of Palms of the French Academy of Music, which offered an officership of public instruction in France. He contributed over 100 marches, about 10 light operas, several waltzes and overtures. Among the most famous of his marches are: "The Stars and Stripes Forever," "Semper Fidelis," "Washington Post," "Liberty Bell," "High School Cadets," "Invincible Eagle," "El Capitan," "The Thunderer," "Presidential Polonaise," "Manhattan Beach," "Yorktown Centennial," "Hands Across the Sea," "Man Behind the Gun," "King Cotton," "Bullets and Bayonets," "Boy Scouts of America," "Liberty Loan March," "Naval Reserve March," "Sabre and Spurs March," and "On the Campus March."
In 1917, Sousa was assigned to the Naval Training Station at Great Lakes, Illinois, in the capacity of musical director, and received the rank of Lieutenant Commander, USNR. He gave a great many concerts during World War I in behalf of the Liberty Loan Drives.
Upon the request of the officers of the United States Marine Corps who had served during the Boxer Rebellion in North China in 1900, Sousa composed a march, "The Royal Welch Fusiliers," to commemorate their association with the British regiment. In June 1930, Sousa attended the ceremony at Tidworth, England, where a "beautifully bound score of the march" was formally presented to the Royal Welch Fusiliers (the oldest regiment in Wales) to perpetuate the friendship of the regiment with the United States Marine Corps.
He also composed the march "The George Washington BiCentennial March" in 1930 (published by the Sam Fox Publishing Company in 1932) in honor of the 200th birthday anniversary of George Washington.
His last appearance before the Marine Band was on the occasion of the Carabao Wallow of 1932 at Washington, D.C. The Marine Band furnished the music for the big event. Sousa, as a distinguished guest, arose from the speaker's table, took Captain Taylor Branson's place on the podium, and conducted the Marine Band in the stirring strains of "The Stars and Stripes Forever." It is said that no band ever played with so much spirit, and that tears trickled down the cheeks of various members of the band as well as those of the audience.
John Philip Sousa died on 6 March 1932 at Reading, Pennsylvania, in his 78th year. His body was brought to Washington, D.C., the city of his birth and triumphs and lay in state in the band hall of the Marine Barracks. On Thursday, 10 March, two companies of Marines and Sailors, the Marine Band, and honorary pallbearers from the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps headed the funeral cortege from the Marine Barracks to Congressional Cemetery in Southeast Washington. In Washington, D.C., on 9 December 1939, the new Pennsylvania Avenue Bridge across the Eastern Branch of the Potomac River, was dedicated as a memorial to the great Washington composer and bandmaster, John Philip Sousa, and named Sousa Bridge. The Marine Band rendered his famous marches at this dedication.