“Love your neighbor as yourself and your country more than yourself.” — Thomas Jefferson, letter to Thomas Jefferson Smith — 1825
It is certainly appropriate and fitting to remember those who sacrificed their life and limb in the service of the United States from Valley Forge and Gettysburg to Iwo Jima and Helmand Province. It is also fitting to remember those patriots who gave much to our culture and heritage on this Memorial Day weekend.
I have posted two previous blogs honoring our fallen heroes; The Meaning of Memorial Day and how to make the perfect burger and Another Memorial Day. This Memorial Day I would like to allow the TV networks to run their specials and old and tired war movies while I remember John Philip Sousa in words and his music.
John Philip Sousa was born in 1854 in Washington, D.C. and died in 1932. He worked as a theater musician and conducted the U.S. Marine Band before starting his own civilian band in 1892. Sousa toured with his band for 40 years and was indisputably the most famous musical act in the world. He composed 136 marches, 15 operettas, 70 songs and many other pieces
Sousa was born in Washington, D.C., on November 6, 1854, to John Antonio Sousa, who was of Portuguese ancestry, and Maria Elisabeth Trinkhaus, who was of Bavarian ancestry. Sousa started his music education by playing the violin as a pupil of John Esputa and George Felix Benkert for harmony and musical composition at the age of six. He was found to have absolute pitch. During his childhood, Sousa studied voice, violin, piano, flute, cornet, baritone horn, trombone and alto horn. At the age of 13, his father, a trombonist in the Marine Band, enlisted Sousa in the United States Marine Corps as an apprentice to keep him from joining a circus band.
On December 30, 1879, Sousa married Jane van Middlesworth Bellis (1862–1944) a wife he would remain with until his death. They had three children: John Philip, Jr. (April 1, 1881 – May 18, 1937), Jane Priscilla (August 7, 1882 – October 28, 1958), and Helen (January 21, 1887 – October 14, 1975). All were buried in the John Philip Sousa plot in the Congressional Cemetery.
Several years after serving his apprenticeship, Sousa joined 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's band played at two Inaugural Balls, those of James A. Garfield in 1881, and Benjamin Harrison in 1889. The marching brass bass, 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.
He 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.
The Timeline for Sousa’s life:
1854: Born Washington, DC, Nov. 6. John Philip was 3rd of 10 children of John Antonio Sousa (born in Spain of Portuguese parents) and Maria Elisabeth Trinkhaus (born in Bavaria). John Philip's father, Antonio, played trombone in the U.S. Marine band. He grew up around military band music.
1860: Began musical study around age six, studying voice, violin, piano, flute, cornet, baritone, trombone and alto horn.
1867: His father enlisted him in the Marines at age 13 as an apprentice after he attempted to run away to join a circus band.
1872: Published first composition, "Moonlight on the Potomac Waltzes".
1875: Discharged from Marines. Began performing (on violin), touring and eventually conducting theater orchestras. Conducted Gilbert & Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore on Broadway.
1879: In February, met Jane van Middlesworth Bellis during Pinafore rehearsals; they were married December 30, 1879.
1880: Returned to Washington in September to assume leadership of the US Marine Band.
1880-1892: Conducted "The President's Own", serving under presidents Hayes, Garfield, Cleveland, Arthur and Harrison. After two successful but limited tours with the Marine Band in 1891 and 1892, promoter David Blakely convinced Sousa to resign and organize a civilian concert band.
1892: The first Sousa Band concert was performed September 26 at Stillman Music Hall in Plainfield, New Jersey. Two days earlier, bandleader Patrick Gilmore had died in St. Louis. Nineteen of Gilmore's former musicians eventually joined Sousa's band, including Herbert L. Clarke (cornet) and E. A. Lefebre (saxophone). The original name of the band was "Sousa's New Marine Band", but criticism from Washington forced the withdrawal of the name.
1895: Sousa's first successful operetta, El Capitan, debuts.
1896: Sousa's promoter David Blakely dies while Sousa and his wife are on vacation in Europe. On the return voyage, Sousa receives the inspiration for The Stars and Stripes Forever.
1900: The Sousa Band tours Europe.
1901: Second European tour.
1905: Third European tour.
1910: World Tour: New York, Great Britain, Canary Islands, South-Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji Islands, Hawaii, Canada.
1917: During World War I, Sousa joins the US Naval Reserve at age 62. He is assigned the rank of lieutenant and paid a salary of $1 per month.
1919-1932: After the war, Sousa continued to tour with his band. He championed the cause of music education, received several honorary degrees and fought for composers' rights, testifying before Congress in 1927 and 1928.
1932: Sousa dies at age 77 on March 6th, after conducting a rehearsal of the Ringgold Band in Reading, Pennsylvania. The last piece he conducted was "The Stars and Stripes Forever".
Sousa is not so much remembered for his life but for the patriotic marches he gave us. He wrote 136 marches, published by the Sam Fox Publishing Company beginning in 1917 and continuing until his death. Some of his notable ones are:
- The Gladiator March, (1866) Sousa's first hit.
- "King Cotton", a 1895 Sousa military march.
- "The Gallant Seventh", was in the 1920s and is distinguished as his only march with two breakstrains.
- Sousa's The Thunderer (1889), performed in 1896 by the United States Marine Band
- Sousa's Fairest of the Fair (1908), performed by the United States Navy Band
- "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) (later used as credits theme for Monty Python's Flying Circus TV series)
- "Manhattan Beach March" (1893)
- "Stars and Stripes Forever" (1896) (The 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) (Composed at the request of the United States Naval Academy class of 1920 and dedicated to Tecumseh, a bronze reproduction of the figurehead of the U.S.S. Delaware that occupies a key place at the Academy)
- "The Gallant Seventh" (1922)
- "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 USA)
Sousa wrote marches for several American universities, including University of Illinois, University of Nebraska, Kansas State University, and Marquette University.
A few notes of Sousa’s more famous marches:
In his autobiography, Marching Along, Sousa wrote that he composed the march on Christmas Day, 1896. He was on an ocean liner on his way home from a vacation with his wife in Europe and had just learned of the recent death of David Blakely, the manager of the Sousa Band. He composed the march in his head and committed the notes to paper on arrival in the United States. It was first performed at Willow Grove Park, just outside Philadelphia, on May 14, 1897, and was immediately greeted with enthusiasm. It was first performed in Augusta, Maine on May 1, 1897 at the New City Hall.
”The Stars and Stripes Forever" follows the standard American military march form. The march begins with a four-bar introduction, which is followed by a dotted, playful melody. Its trio is the most famous part of the march. Most bands adopt the Sousa Band practice of having one or three (never two piccolo players play the famous obbligato in the first repeat of the trio (the one after the breakstrain). In the final repeat of the trio (grandioso), the low brass joins the piccolo players with a prominent countermelody. The official version, as played by the United States Marine Band, is performed in the key of E-flat.
"Semper Fidelis", which was written in 1888 by John Philip Sousa, is regarded as the official march of the United States Marine Corps. This piece was one of two composed in response to a request from United States President Chester Arthur for a new piece to be associated with the United States President. The words Semper Fidelis are Latin for "Always Faithful."
In an October 1927 interview published in the Independent (Nebraska), Sousa claimed "I wrote "Semper Fidelis" one night while in tears after my comrades of the Marine Corps had sung their famous Hymn at Quantico.
"The Washington Post" is a march composed by John Philip Sousa in 1889. Since then, it has remained as one of his most popular marches throughout the United States and many countries abroad.
In 1889 the owners of The Washington Post newspaper requested that John Philip Sousa, the leader of the United States Marine Corps Band, compose a march for the newspaper's essay contest awards ceremony. Sousa obliged; "The Washington Post March" was introduced at the ceremony on June 15, 1889, and it became quite popular. It led to a British journalist dubbing Sousa "The March King". Sousa is honored in The Washington Post building for his contribution to the newspaper and his country.
The composition is now in the public domain in the US, as its copyright has expired
This recognizable march is written in standard form: IAABBCCDCDC. Written in 2/4 meter, it is suited as an accompaniment to the two-step, a new dance introduced in its time.
The first strain of the march (above) is famous and familiar to many. The march is played in a stately march tempo (110-120 beats/m; rarely over).
March enthusiasts have argued that the trio section's mellow and moving phrases are amongst Sousa's most musical. Six sudden eighth notes move the melody along, and its unusually calm breakstrain is a simple adaptation of the trio melody. It then moves on to the first trio repeat, where the low brass begins an even more mellow countermelody.
In 1952 Hollywood released a somewhat corny, but very entraining biopic about the life of John Phillip Sousa called “Stars and Stripes Forever.” The film is a biography of the composer John Philip Sousa, from his early days in the Marine Corps Band through the Spanish-American War in 1898. It stars Clifton Webb as Sousa and Ruth Hussey as his wife Jennie (Jane).
A few of the reviewers give the film very high marks, not so much for the acting but for the music:
“Clifton Webb does a fine work as the great band-master and composer of memorable marches who, on the 1890's, when he leaves the Marines Corps., forms his own concert band and travels around the world.
With the sensitive and beautiful Debra Paget as the singer-dancer, and the sympathetic and good-looking Robert Wagner as the horn player, the loving couple shares a real and firm part of the 'imagined' tale.
The great highlights of the picture are when a black choir is singing "The Battle Hymn Of The Republic," and the outstanding performance of "Dixie," played by Philip Sousa and his Orchestra as they enter the Cotton States Exposit John Philip Sousa was not only America's "March King," he was a skilled organizer and entertainer who also composed much music now thoroughly unknown to most Americans (and fans elsewhere). His life spanned the era of an optimistic, brash America where live music was the only music to the burgeoning and eventually triumphant victory of an insatiable technology that even in Sousa's lifetime was employed to record almost everything. Sousa benefited from the new world of recording and he can be heard on compact disc in his later years conducting his famed quasi-military band.
20th Century Fox enlisted a cadre of fine performers for a seamlessly entertaining biopic of John Philip Sousa with a nice, anachronistically innocent, fictional romance interwoven with the band leader/composer's story.
As Sousa Clifton Webb brings to life a character who was, as in reality, ambitious and driven to succeed. Sousa left the Marine Corps, where he led The President's Own, to start his hand-picked band. In uniforms which the leader designed, the outfit mirrored great military bands (of which the U.S., as opposed to England, had a clear shortage during Sousa's life). Sousa understood the importance of touring and he was light years ahead of the twentieth century's pops ensembles in making his musicians - and his music — as ubiquitous as travel of his day allowed. ion in Atlanta.”
I have seen this film several times with the latest last year on Turner Classic Movies. I found in very enjoyable — especially the music. It harkens me back to a time when people believed that this country was a place where you could make of yourself what you could out for the effort for.
On December 24, 1910, the Sousa Band embarked on a world tour. Although not the first group to travel around the world, the publicity generated was immense (although the financial rewards were only modest). Sousa's reputation, marches and recordings preceded him; he and the band were welcomed as conquering heroes at every port.
Sousa was in poor health at the beginning of the tour, having contracted malaria during hunting trip in the fall of 1910. After spending two weeks in the hospital, he met the band in mid-tour in Montreal and finished a series of "farewell" concerts before sailing from New York on December 24.
Here is a summary of their itinerary (for a complete list of tour stops, consult Paul Bierley's The Incredible Band of John Philip Sousa):
- Jan 9-Mar 3 1911: England, Ireland
- Mar 24-Apr 21: South Africa
- May 12-Aug 23: Tasmania, Australia, New Zealand
- Sep 10-Oct 15: Hawaii, Western Canada & U.S.
- Oct 23-Dec 1: Midwestern U.S. (TX, OK, KS, MO, NE, IA, WI, MN, MI, IL, OH)
- Dec 4-Dec 10: NY
In 1985 my wife and I traveled with my daughter’s high school band to Europe. One of the stops on the tour was in Lugano, Switzerland. Lugano is in the Italian speaking part of the Swiss Confederation. The band gave a concert on the Piazza della Riforma in the center of the town. It was a beautiful June evening and the cafes lining the Piazza were filled with patrons sipping their coffees or campari and listening to the concert. For their final number the band played Sousa’s Stars and Stripes. It took no time for the crowd to break out in rhythmic clapping to the beat of the march. I can still remember one of the band’s flute players who doubled on the piccolo flawlessly playing the famous trio. After the march was concluded the assembled crowd rose to their feet in a standing ovation. It’s difficult to say if it was the band’s performance or he familiarity of the tune. Perhaps it was a little of both.
Sousa, the child of immigrant parents gave this country a heritage of march music that will live as long of the stars and stripes fly above our capitol For this he should be remembered as a child of America and true patriot.