John Philip Sousa (November 6, 1854 ??? March 6, 1932) was an American composer and conductor of the late Romantic era, known particularly for American military and patriotic marches. Because of his mastery of march composition and resultant prominence, he is known as "The March King." In public, he was typically referenced by his full name.
John Philip Sousa was born in Washington, D.C. on November 6, 1854 to John Ant??nio de Sousa and Maria Elisabeth Trinkhaus. His parents were of Portuguese, Spanish, and Bavarian (German) descent; his grandparents were Portuguese refugees. Sousa started his music education by playing the violin as a pupil of John Esputa and G. F. Benkert for harmony and musical composition at the age of six. He was found to have absolute pitch. When Sousa reached the age of 13, his father, a trombonist in the Marine Band, enlisted his son in the United States Marine Corps as an apprentice to keep him from joining a circus band. Sousa served his apprenticeship for seven years until 1875 and apparently learned to play all the wind instruments while honing his mettle with the violin.
Sousa's birthplace, still standing on G St., SE
On December 30, 1879, Sousa married Jane van Middlesworth Bellis (1862-1944). They had three children together: John Philip Sousa, Jr (April 1, 1881 ??? May 18, 1937), Jane Priscilla (August 7, 1882 ??? October 28, 1958), and Helen (January 21, 1887 ??? October 14, 1975). All are buried in the John Philip Sousa plot in the Congressional cemetery. Jane joined the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1907.
Several years later, Sousa left his apprenticeship to join a theatrical (pit) orchestra where he learned to conduct. He returned to the U.S. Marine Band as its head in 1880 and remained as its conductor until 1892. Sousa led The President's Own band under five presidents from Rutherford B. Hayes to Benjamin Harrison.
Sousa organized his own band the year he left the Marine Band. The Sousa Band toured from 1892???1931, performing at 15,623 concerts. In 1900, his band represented the United States at the Paris Exposition before touring Europe. In Paris, the Sousa Band marched through the streets including the Champs-??lys?©es to the Arc de Triomphe ??? one of only eight parades the band marched in over its forty years.
The marching brass bass, or sousaphone, was created in 1898 by C. G. Conn at Sousa's request for a tuba that could sound upward and over the band whether it was seated or marching.
Sousa repeatedly refused to conduct on the radio, fearing a lack of personal contact with the audience. He was finally persuaded to do so in 1929 and became a smash hit.
Sousa lived in Sands Point, New York. There is a school (John Philip Sousa Elementary) and a band shell named after him and there is also a memorial tree planted in nearby Port Washington. Wild Bank, his seaside house on Hicks Lane, has been designated a National Historic Landmark, although it remains a private home and is not open to the public.
Sousa died of heart failure at the age of 77 at approximately 1:30 in the morning on March 6, 1932, in his room on the fourteenth floor of the Abraham Lincoln Hotel in Reading, Pennsylvania. He had conducted a rehearsal of "Stars and Stripes Forever" earlier that day with the Ringgold Band. He is buried in Washington, D.C.'s Congressional Cemetery.
Sousa served in the U.S. Marine Corps, first from 1868 to 1875 as an apprentice musician, and then as the head of the Marine Band from 1880 to 1892; he was a Sergeant Major for most of his second period of Marine service and was a Warrant Officer at the time he resigned.
He volunteered to serve as a bandmaster in the U.S. Army during the Spanish???American War but was unable to serve due to illness.
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.
Sousa and the Marine Corps Band, 1893
See also: List of compositions by John Philip Sousa
Sousa wrote 136 marches; some of his most popular and notable are:
"The Gladiator March" (1886)
"Semper Fidelis" (1888) (Official March of the United States Marine Corps)
"The Washington Post" (1889)
"The Thunderer" (1889)
"High School Cadets" (1890)
"The Liberty Bell" (1893) (credits theme for Monty Python's Flying Circus)
"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" (dedicated to the band of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets - the Highty-Tighties) (1899)
"Hail to the Spirit of Liberty" March (1900)
"Invincible Eagle" (1901) (Dedicated to Pan-American Buffalo Exposition)
"Fairest of the Fair" (1908)
"Glory of the Yankee Navy" (1909)
"U.S. Field Artillery" (1917) (Modified version The Army Goes Rolling Along is the official song of the U.S. Army)
"Who's Who in Navy Blue" (1920)
"The Gallant Seventh" (1922)
"Nobles of the Mystic Shrine" (1923)
"The Black Horse Troop" (1924)
"Pride of the Wolverines" (1926)
"Minnesota March" (1927)
"Salvation Army March" (1930) (dedicated to The Salvation Army's 50th anniversary in the USA)
Sousa wrote marches for several American universities, including University of Nebraska, Kansas State University, Marquette University, and University of Minnesota.
Sheet music cover, 1896
The Queen of Hearts (1885), also known as Royalty and Roguery
The Smugglers (1882)
El Capitan (1896)
The Bride Elect (1897), libretto by Sousa.
The Charlatan (1898), also known as The Mystical Miss, lyrics by Sousa
Chris and the Wonderful Lamp (1899)
The Free Lance (1905)
The American Maid (1909), also known as The Glass Blowers.
These operettas which Gervase Hughes calls "notable" (1) also show a variety of French, Viennese and British influences. (In his younger days, Sousa made an orchestration of H.M.S. Pinafore and played the first violin on the American tour of Jacques Offenbach.) The music of these operettas is light and cheerful. The Glass Blowers and Desir?©e have had revivals, the latter having been released on CD like El Capitan, the best known of them. El Capitan has been in production somewhere in the world ever since it was written and makes fun of false heroes. Still more outspoken against militarism is The Free Lance, the story of two kingdoms becoming united, which found its way to Germany (as "Der Feldhauptmann") by the time the Berlin Wall came down.
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, a number of musical suites, etc. He also frequently added Sullivan opera overtures or other Sullivan pieces to his concerts.
Sousa the Freemason
One year after the 1882 Transit of Venus, Sousa was commissioned to compose a processional for the unveiling of a bronze statue of American physicist Joseph Henry, who had died in 1878. Henry, who had developed the first electric motor, was also the first secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
A Freemason, Sousa was fascinated by what the group considered mystical qualities in otherwise natural phenomena. According to Sten Odenwald of the NASA IMAGE Science Center, this played a significant role in the selection of the time and date of the performance, April 19, 1883, at 4:00 P.M. Dr. Odenwald points out that Venus and Mars, invisible to the participants, were setting in the west. At the same time, the moon, Uranus, and Virgo were rising in the east, Saturn had crossed the meridian, and Jupiter was directly overhead. According to Masonic lore, Venus was associated with the element copper, and Joseph Henry had used large quantities of copper to build his electric motors.
The Transit of Venus March never caught on during Sousa's lifetime. It went unplayed for more than 100 years after Sousa's copies of the music were destroyed in a flood. As reported in The Washington Post, Library of Congress employee Loras Schissel recently found copies of the old sheet music for Venus "languishing in the library's files". The piece was resurrected recently, in time for the 2004 Transit.
Sousa also composed a march, "Nobles of the Mystic Shrine", dedicated to the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, also known as the Shriners.
Other writing, skills, and interests
Sousa exhibited many talents aside from music. He wrote three novels -- "The Fifth String," "Pipetown Sandy," and "The Transit of Venus" -- as well as a full-length autobiography, Marching Along and a great number of articles and letters-to-the-editor on a variety of subjects. His skill as a horseman met championship criteria. He was also a connoisseur of cheese.
As a trapshooter, he ranks as one of the all-time greats, and he is enshrined in the Trapshooting Hall of Fame. He even organized the first national trapshooting organization, a forerunner to today's Amateur Trapshooting Association. Sousa remained active in the fledgling ATA for some time after its formation. Some credit Sousa as the father of organized trapshooting in America. Sousa also wrote numerous articles about trapshooting.
Perhaps a quote from his Trapshooting Hall of Fame biography says it best: "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 his 1902 novel The Fifth String a young violinist makes a deal with the Devil for a magic violin with five strings. The strings can excite the emotions of Pity, Hope, Love and Joy - the fifth string is Death and can be played only once before causing the player's own death. He has a brilliant career, but cannot win the love of the woman he desires. At a final concert, he plays upon the death string.
In 1905, Sousa published the book Pipetown Sandy, which included a satirical poem titled "The Feast of the Monkeys". The poem describes a lavish party attended by a variety of animals, but overshadowed by the King of Beasts, the lion??¦who allows the muttering guests the privilege of watching him eat the entire feast. At the end of his gluttony, the lion explains, "Come all rejoice, You???ve seen your monarch dine."
In 1920, he wrote another work called The Transit of Venus, a 40,000-word story. It is about a group of misogynists called the Alimony Club who, as a way of temporarily escaping the society of women, embark on a sea voyage to observe the transit of Venus. The captain's niece, however, has stowed away on board and soon wins over the men.
Sousa held a very low opinion of the emerging and upstart recording industry. In a submission to a congressional hearing in 1906, he argued:
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.
Law professor Lawrence Lessig cited this passage to argue that in creating a system of copyrights in which control of music is in the hands of record labels, Sousa was essentially correct. Sousa also was credited with referring to records as "canned music."
Sousa's antipathy to recording was such that he refused to conduct his band if it was being recorded. Nevertheless, Sousa's band made numerous recordings for the Victor Talking Machine Company (later RCA Victor), usually conducted by Arthur Pryor. A handful of the Victor recordings were actually conducted by Sousa, who 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.
In 1922, he accepted the invitation of the national chapter to become an honorary member of Kappa Kappa Psi, the national honorary band fraternity. Later, in 1925, he was initiated as an honorary member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, the national fraternity for men in music, by the fraternity's Alpha Xi chapter at the University of Illinois.
In 1952, 20th Century Fox honored Sousa in their Technicolor feature film Stars and Stripes Forever with Clifton Webb portraying the composer. Fox music director Alfred Newman arranged the music and conducted the studio orchestra for the soundtrack. It was loosely based on Sousa's memoirs, Marching Along.
Stars and Stripes Forever
A 1909 Edison Records recording of Sousa's Band performing Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever.
Semper Fidelis March
John Philip Sousa's Semper Fidelis March, the official march of the U.S. Marine Corps. Performed by the U.S. Marine Band in June 1909.
^ a b Bierley, Paul Edmund, ???The Incredible Band of John Philip Sousa???. University of Illinois Press, 2006.
^ Vocal score of The Charlatan
^ Hughes, Gervase. Composers of Operetta, New York, 1962
^ TransitFAQs at image.gsfc.nasa.gov
^ John Philip Sousa & The Transit of Venus at transitofvenus.org
^ a b .
^ Willow Grove Park
^ Lawrence Lessig, 2008, Remix: marking art and commerce thrive in the hybrid economy, London: Bloomsbury Academic. Chapter 1.
Grave of Sousa at Congressional Cemetery (Washington, DC, USA)