The month of March leads us into thoughts of lions and lambs (“…in like a lion, out like a lamb…”).
Or, perhaps, into thoughts of…marches for March. Marches of welcome, marches of war, marches of celebration, marches of introduction, the variety is endless. Which leads, inevitably, to thoughts of the “March King”, John Philip Sousa.
Born in our nation’s capital on November 6, 1854 as one of ten children in a not ostensibly musical family, his father, though, was an instrumentalist, playing trombone in the United States Marine Band. Young John Philip’s musical education did begin at an early age, and, at the age of thirteen, he received an extremely tempting offer to be the conductor of a circus band – in almost storybook fashion, he was offered every 19th Century boy’s dream: to literally “run away with the circus”. However, his father quickly intervened and arranged for him to be an apprentice in the United States Marine Band, leading to eight happy and instructive years.
After the completion of his apprenticeship, John Philip had, among other adventures, the distinction of playing in the United States Centennial orchestra under the baton of none other than Jacques Offenbach. And then, on October 1, 1880, he returned to the United States Marine Band, assuming, this time, the exalted post of Conductor and serving under Presidents Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland and Harrison.
However, his acquaintance with President Garfield was short-lived, as an assassin’s bullet took the President’s life after only six months in office. Garfield was succeeded in office by Chester A. Arthur, who, wishing to observe a period of mourning for the martyred Garfield, employed the Band much less than his predecessors had. However, from Sousa’s perspective, such a furlough turned out to be a blessing in disguise, effectively allowing him more time to compose. Nevertheless, yielding to a more entrepreneurial spirit, and wishing to earn more than his $1500 annual salary, he conducted his last concert with the Band on July 30, 1892, thereafter organizing his own band and giving tours all over the world, and, among other activities, aiding in the development of the brass instrument which bears his name, the sousaphone.
Sousa died on March 6, 1932 at the age of 77, his reputation as the “March King” forever secured, with the tunes of “The Washington Post March”, “The Stars And Stripes Forever”, “Semper Fidelis”, “The Liberty Bell” and many others instantly recognizable and hummed all over the country as an integral part of the American songbook.
More, at the Library, about Sousa
- In print
- Electronically – Credo Reference
- Electronically – History Reference Center
- Electronically – Biography Reference Bank
- Recordings of his music
- Scores and other printings of his music