Happy Birthday, John Philip Sousa!


“The March King,” John Philip Sousa was born November 6, 1854, in Washington, DC. Thus began a life-long association with United States Marine Band. Sousa’s father, John Antonio Sousa, was a trombonist in the Marine Band.

Sousa grew up in Washington and studied music under John Esputa, Jr. He became a very skillful violinist by the time he was 13. He considered joining a circus band. His father, however, enlisted him in the Marine Band as an apprentice. By age twenty, Sousa had spent nearly seven years with the Marine Band.

In 1874, Sousa was discharged from the Marine Corps and sometime later, moved to Philadelphia. He worked for music publishers. In 1879, he married Jane (“Jennie”) van Middlesworth Bellis. They eventually had three children. A year after his marriage, Sousa was asked to return to Washington as the leader of the Marine Band. He accepted.

Sousa transformed the Marine Band into one of the premier musical organizations of the time.

Sousa was a prolific composer. In 1889, his composition, “The Washington Post,” became the most popular tune in America and Europe. His “Semper Fidelis” became the official march of the Marine Corps. And, of course, everyone recognizes “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” which in 1897 was designated the official march of the United States.

Sousa left the Marine Band in 1892 after twelve years as leader. He formed “Sousa’s Band,” which for the next forty years continued Sousa’s prominence on the American and international music scene.

John Philip Sousa died on March 6, 1932, in Reading, Pennsylvania, just before a performance. He was buried with military honors in Congressional Cemetery. Shortly before his death, he had appeared as a special guest of the Marine Band and led them in “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” His seven decades of professional excellent rank Sousa as one of America’s most outstanding musicians.

Music courtesy United States Marine Band.

To hear actual recordings of the Sousa-directed Marine Band and “Sousa’s Band,” go to
The Library of Congress online exhibit, “The March King,” and the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project.

Photo courtesy of The Library of Congress. Photographer and date unknown. Assumed to be in the public domain.

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Craig

One Response to “Happy Birthday, John Philip Sousa!”

  • Miriam says:

    As a former marching band member (high school, The Salvation Army) who has marched in many a parade, I absolutely love Sousa’s rousing marches! Thanks for this interesting post, Craig, and especially for linking to the tunes, which I am listening to at the moment.


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