John Philip Sousa
|Born||November 6, 1854|
Washington, D.C., U.S.
|Died||March 6, 1932 (aged 77)|
Reading, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Burial place||Congressional Cemetery|
|Other names||"The (American) March King"|
|Notable work||Full list|
Jane van Middlesworth Bellis
|Years of service|
John Philip Sousa (/ /, SOO-zə, SOO-sə, Portuguese: [ˈso(w)zɐ]; November 6, 1854 – March 6, 1932) was an American composer and conductor of the late Romantic era known primarily for American military marches. He is known as "The March King" or the "American March King", to distinguish him from his British counterpart Kenneth J. Alford. Among Sousa's best-known marches are "The Stars and Stripes Forever" (National March of the United States of America), "Semper Fidelis" (official march of the United States Marine Corps), "The Liberty Bell", "The Thunderer", and "The Washington Post".
Sousa began his career playing violin and studying music theory and composition under John Esputa and George Felix Benkert. Sousa's father enlisted him in the United States Marine Band as an apprentice in 1868. He left the band in 1875, and over the next five years, Sousa performed as a violinist and learned to conduct. In 1880, he rejoined the Marine Band and served there for 12 years as director, after which Sousa was hired to conduct a band organized by David Blakely, P.S. Gilmore's former agent. Blakely wanted to compete with Gilmore. From 1880 until his death, Sousa focused exclusively on conducting and writing music. He aided in the development of the sousaphone, a large brass instrument similar to the helicon and tuba.
Upon the outbreak of World War I, Sousa was awarded a wartime commission of lieutenant commander to lead the Naval Reserve Band in Illinois. He then returned to conduct the Sousa Band until his death in 1932. In the 1920s, Sousa was promoted to the permanent rank of lieutenant commander in the naval reserve.
Early life and education
John Philip Sousa was born in Washington, D.C., the third of ten children of João António de Sousa (John Anthony Sousa) (September 22, 1824 – April 27, 1892), who was born in Spain to Portuguese parents, and his wife Maria Elisabeth Trinkhaus (May 20, 1826 – August 25, 1908), who was German and from Bavaria. Sousa began his music education under the tuition of John Esputa Sr., who taught him solfeggio. However, this was short-lived due to the teacher's frequent bad temper. Sousa's real music education began in 1861 or 1862 as a pupil of John Esputa Jr., the son of his previous teacher under whom Sousa studied violin, piano, flute, several brass instruments, and singing. Esputa shared his father's bad temper, and the relationship between teacher and pupil was often strained, but Sousa progressed very rapidly and was also found to have perfect pitch. During this period, Sousa wrote his first composition, "An Album Leaf", but Esputa dismissed it as "bread and cheese", and the composition was subsequently lost.
Sousa's father was a trombonist in the Marine Band, and he enlisted Sousa in the United States Marine Corps as an apprentice at age 13 to keep him from joining a circus band. That same year, Sousa began studying music under George Felix Benkert. Sousa was enlisted under a minority enlistment, meaning that he would not be discharged until his 21st birthday.
Sousa completed his apprenticeship in 1875 and began performing on the violin. He then joined a theatrical pit orchestra where he learned to conduct. Sousa returned to the Marine Band as its head in 1880 and remained as its conductor until 1892. He led "The President's Own" band under five presidents from Rutherford B. Hayes to Benjamin Harrison. Sousa's band played at the inaugural balls of James A. Garfield in 1881 and Benjamin Harrison in 1889.
The marching brass bass or sousaphone is a modified helicon created in 1893 by Philadelphia instrument maker J. W. Pepper at Sousa's request, using several of his suggestions in its design. Sousa wanted a tuba that could sound upward and over the band whether its player was seated or marching. C.G. Conn recreated the instrument in 1898, and this was the model that Sousa preferred to use.
Sousa organized The Sousa Band the year that he left the Marine Band, and it toured from 1892 to 1931 and performed at 15,623 concerts, both in America and around the world, including at the World Exposition in Paris and at the Royal Albert Hall in London. In Paris, the Sousa Band marched through the streets to the Arc de Triomphe, one of only eight parades that the band marched in during its 40 years.
In 1868, Sousa enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 13 as an apprentice musician (his rank listed as "boy"). He left the Marine Corps in 1875. His second period of service began in 1880 and continued until 1892. During this period, Sousa led the Marine Band through its development into the country's premier military band.
The Columbia Phonograph Company produced 60 recordings of the Marine Band conducted by Sousa, which led to his national fame. In July 1892, Sousa requested a discharge from the Marine Corps to pursue a financially promising civilian career as a band leader. He conducted a farewell concert at the White House on July 30, 1892, and was discharged from the Marine Corps the next day.
Sousa was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Naval Reserve on May 31, 1917, shortly after the United States declared war on Germany and entered World War I. He was 62 years old, the mandatory retirement age for Navy officers. During the war, Sousa led the Navy Band at the Great Lakes Naval Station near Chicago, and he donated all of his naval salary except a token $1 per month to the Sailors' and Marines' Relief Fund. Sousa was discharged from active duty after the end of the war in November 1918 and returned to conducting his own band. In the early 1920s, Sousa was promoted to lieutenant commander in the Naval Reserve but did not return to active duty. He frequently wore his Navy uniform during performances for the remainder of his life.
For his service during the war, Sousa received the World War I Victory Medal and was elected as a Veteran Companion of the Military Order of Foreign Wars. He was also a member of the New York Athletic Club and Post 754 of the American Legion.
On December 30, 1879, Sousa married Jane van Middlesworth Bellis, who was descended from Adam Bellis who served in the New Jersey troops during the American Revolutionary War.  They had three children together: John Philip Jr., Jane Priscilla, and Helen.
On July 15, 1881, the "March King" was initiated into Freemasonry by Hiram Lodge No. 10 (Now Hiram-Takoma Lodge No. 10) in Washington, DC, where he remained an active member until his death in 1932. Among other Masonic honors he was named the Honorary Band Leader of the Temple Band of Almas Shriners, the DC-based Chapter of Shriners International. A number of his compositions were for the organization, including the "Nobles of the Mystic Shrine" March.
In his later years, Sousa lived in Sands Point, New York. He died of heart failure at the age of 77 on March 6, 1932, in his room at the Abraham Lincoln Hotel in Reading, Pennsylvania. Sousa had conducted a rehearsal of "The Stars and Stripes Forever" the previous day with the Ringgold Band as its guest conductor. Sousa is buried in Washington, D.C.'s Congressional Cemetery. Each November 6 the Marine Band performs Semper Fidelis at Sousa's grave. His house Wildbank has been designated as a National Historic Landmark, although it remains a private home and is not open to the public.
Sousa has surviving descendants today; one of his great-grandsons, John Philip Sousa IV, works as a political activist for the Republican Party.
Sousa was decorated with the palms of the Order of Public Instruction of Portugal and the Order of Academic Palms of France. He also received the Royal Victorian Medal from King Edward VII of the United Kingdom in December 1901 for conducting a private birthday concert for Queen Alexandra.
In 1922, Sousa accepted the invitation of the national chapter to become an honorary member of Kappa Kappa Psi, the national honorary band fraternity. In 1932, he was initiated as an honorary member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, a national fraternity for men in music, by the fraternity's Alpha Xi chapter at the University of Illinois.
In 1987, an act of Congress named "The Stars and Stripes Forever" as the national march of the United States.
Sousa was a member of the Sons of the Revolution, Military Order of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Freemasons, and the Society of Artists and Composers. He was also a member of the Salmagundi, Players, Musicians, New York Athletic, Lambs, Army and Navy and the Gridiron clubs of Washington.
Sousa wrote over 130 marches, published by Harry Coleman of Philadelphia, Carl Fischer Music, the John Church Company, and the Sam Fox Publishing Company, the last association beginning in 1917 and continuing until his death. Some of his more well-known marches include:
- "Review" (1873) (Sousa's first published march)
- "The Gladiator March" (1886)
- "Semper Fidelis" (1888) (Official March of the United States Marine Corps)
- "The Washington Post" (1889)
- "The Thunderer" (1889)
- "The Loyal Legion March" (1890)
- "High School Cadets" (1890)
- "The Liberty Bell" (1893) (later used as the credits theme for Monty Python's Flying Circus TV series)
- "Manhattan Beach March" (1893)
- "King Cotton" (1895)
- "Stars and Stripes Forever" (1896) (National March of the United States)
- "El Capitan" (1896)
- "Hands Across the Sea" (1899)
- "Hail to the Spirit of Liberty" March (1900)
- "Invincible Eagle" (1901) (dedicated to Pan-American Buffalo Exposition) (Interim United States Space Force Anthem)
- "Imperial Edward" March (1902) Dedicated to King Edward VII of the United Kingdom
- "Fairest of the Fair" (1908)
- "Glory of the Yankee Navy" (1909)
- "Columbia's Pride" (1914)
- "U.S. Field Artillery" (1917) (modified version "The Army Goes Rolling Along" is the official song of the U.S. Army)
- "Anchor & Star" (1918) Dedicated "To the U.S. Navy"
- "Who's Who in Navy Blue" (1920) (composed at the request of the United States Naval Academy class of 1920 and dedicated to Tamanend, a bronze reproduction of the figurehead of the U.S.S. Delaware that occupies a key place at the Academy)
- "The Gallant Seventh" (1922)
- "The Dauntless Battalion" (1922) Dedicated "To Col. Hyatt, the Faculty and Cadets of the Pennsylvania Military College" (Now Widener University in Chester, PA)
- "Nobles of the Mystic Shrine" (1923)
- "The Black Horse Troop" (1924) (written in honor of Troop A, 107th Cavalry, Ohio National Guard).
- "Pride of the Wolverines" (1926)
- "Minnesota March" (1927)
- "New Mexico March" (1928)
- "Salvation Army March" (1930) (dedicated to the Salvation Army's 50th anniversary in the U.S.)
Sousa wrote marches for several American universities, including the University of Minnesota, University of Illinois, University of Nebraska, Kansas State University, Marquette University, Pennsylvania Military College (Widener University), and the University of Michigan.
Sousa wrote many notable operettas, including:
- Désirée (1883), libretto by Edward M. Taber
- El Capitan (1896), libretto by Charles Klein
- The Charlatan (1898), also known as The Mystical Miss, book by Charles Klein and lyrics by Sousa
- Chris and the Wonderful Lamp (1899), libretto by Glen MacDonough
Marches and waltzes have been derived from many of these stage-works. Sousa also composed the music for six operettas that were either unfinished or not produced: The Devils' Deputy, Florine, The Irish Dragoon, Katherine, The Victory, and The Wolf.
In addition, Sousa wrote a march based on themes from Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera The Mikado, the elegant overture Our Flirtations, several musical suites, etc. He frequently added Sullivan opera overtures or other Sullivan pieces to his concerts.
Sousa was quoted saying, "My religion lies in my composition."
Hobbies, writing, and recording
Sousa ranked as one of the all-time great trapshooters and was enshrined in the Trapshooting Hall of Fame. He organized the first national trapshooting organization, a forerunner to today's Amateur Trapshooting Association (ATA). He also wrote numerous articles about trapshooting. He was a regular competitor representing the Navy in trapshooting competitions, particularly against the Army. Records indicate that Sousa registered more than 35,000 targets during his shooting career. "Let me say that just about the sweetest music to me is when I call, 'pull,' the old gun barks, and the referee in perfect key announces, 'dead'."
In Sousa's 1902 novella The Fifth String, a virtuoso violinist makes a deal with the Devil for a magic violin with five strings. The first four strings excite the emotions of Pity, Hope, Love, and Joy, but the fifth string, made from the hair of Eve, will cause the player's death once played. The violinist wins the love of the woman he desires, but out of jealous suspicion, she commands him to play the death string, which he does. Sousa published Pipetown Sandy in 1905, which includes a satirical poem titled "The Feast of the Monkeys". He wrote a 40,000-word story entitled "The Transit of Venus" in 1920. Sousa also wrote the booklet "A manual for trumpet and drum", published by the Ludwig Drum Company with advice for playing drums and trumpet. An early version of the trumpet solo to "Semper Fidelis" was included in this volume.
Sousa held a very low opinion of the emerging recording industry. He derided recordings as "canned music", a reference to the early wax cylinder records that came in can-like cylindrical cardboard boxes. He argued to a congressional hearing in 1906:
These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. When I was a boy… in front of every house in the summer evenings, you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or old songs. Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day. We will not have a vocal cord left. The vocal cord will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape.
Sousa's antipathy to recording was such that he did not conduct his band when it was being recorded. Nevertheless, the band made numerous recordings, the earliest being issued on cylinders by several companies, followed by many recordings on discs by the Berliner Gramophone Company and its successor, the Victor Talking Machine Company (later RCA Victor). The Berliner recordings were conducted by Henry Higgins (one of Sousa's cornet soloists) and Arthur Pryor (Sousa's trombone soloist and assistant conductor). Sousa claimed that he had "never been in the gramophone company's office in my life". Sousa did conduct a few of the Victor recordings, but most were conducted by Pryor, Herbert L. Clarke, Edwin H. Clarke, Walter B. Rogers (who had also been a cornet soloist with Sousa), Rosario Bourdon, Josef Pasternack, or Nathaniel Shilkret. Details of the Victor recordings are available in the external link below to the EDVR.
Sousa also appeared with his band in newsreels and on radio broadcasts, beginning with a 1929 nationwide broadcast on NBC. In 1999, "Legacy" Records released some of Sousa's historic recordings on CD.
John Philip Sousa Award
Even after his death, Sousa continues to be remembered as "The March King" through the John Philip Sousa Foundation. The non-profit organization, founded in 1981, recognizes one superior student in marching band for "musicianship, dependability, loyalty, and cooperation." The John Philip Sousa Foundation provides awards, scholarships, and projects such as The Sudler Trophy, The Sudler Shield, The Sudler Silver Scroll, The Sudler Flag of Honor, The Historic Roll of Honor, The Sudler Cup, The Hawkins Scholarship, National Young Artists, The National Community Band, and The Junior Honor Band Project. He won many honorable awards across his lifetime.
- Sousa Archives and Center for American Music
- Academy of Music/Riviera Theatre
- William Bell (tuba player)
- John Philip Sousa Bridge
- Patrick Gilmore
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His musical education began at 7. He had already made up his mind that he wanted to be a musician, and four years later he won all the medals at the conservatory, the beginning of his collection of decorations, which is said to be the largest in his field in the world. That same year he became a violin soloist.
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- Korzun, Jonathan Nicholas. "The Orchestral Transcriptions for Band of John Philip Sousa: a Description and Analysis." Diss., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1994.
- Kreitner, Mona Bulpitt. "'A Splendid Group of American Girls': The Women Who Sang with the Sousa Band." Diss., University of Memphis, 2007.
- Norton, Pauline Elizabeth Hosack. "March Music in Nineteenth Century America." Diss., University of Michigan, 1983.
- Stacy, William Barney. "John Philip Sousa and His Band Suites." Diss., University of Colorado, 1973.
- Summers, C. Oland. "The Development of Original Band Scoring from Sousa to Husa." Diss., Ball State University, 1986.
- Warfield, Patrick. ""Salesman of Americanism, Globetrotter and Musician" the Nineteenth-century John Philip Sousa; 1854–1893." Diss., Indiana University, 2003.
- Whisler, John A. "The Songs of John Philip Sousa." Diss., Memphis State University, 1975.
- Wright, Maurice. "The Fifth String: an Opera in One Act." Diss., Columbia University, 1989.
- John Philip Sousa papers, 1695–1966 Archived June 18, 2020, at the Wayback Machine at the United States Marine Band Library and Archives Archived June 22, 2020, at the Wayback Machine in Washington, D.C.
- John Philip Sousa Collection, The March King: John Philip Sousa digital collection, the Music of John Philip Sousa and Victor Grabel, and the Dodrill – Sousa sheet music collection at the Library of Congress
- The Sousa Archives and Center for American Music. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2011.
- Works by John Philip Sousa at Project Gutenberg
- Works by John Philip Sousa at Faded Page (Canada)
- Works by John Philip Sousa at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
- Free scores by John Philip Sousa at the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP)
- John Philip Sousa recordings at the Discography of American Historical Recordings.