John Philip Sousa

John Sousa

John Philip Sousa was an American composer and conductor, famous for his patriotic military marches. He was given the nickname “The March King."

Early years

John Philip Sousa was born on November 6, 1854, in Washington, D.C. He was the third of 10 children. His parents were John Antonio Sousa and Maria Elisabeth Trinkhaus. His father played the trombone in a military band, so John grew up around military band music. When John was six, he began to study voice and numerous instruments, including violin, piano, flute, cornet, baritone, and trombone. When John was 13 years old, he attempted to run away and join a circus band, so his father enlisted him in the U.S. Marines as an apprentice.

In 1872, John published his first composition, "Moonlight on the Potomac Waltzes." In 1875, he was discharged from the marines. He began to perform on the violin, which led to him touring. John eventually began to conduct theater orchestras, including Gilbert & Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore on Broadway.

In February 1879, he met Jane van Middlesworth Bellis during Pinafore rehearsals. They were married on December 30, 1879. The couple had three children.

In 1880, John returned to Washington D.C., to assume leadership of the U.S. Marine Band. He led the band from 1880 to 1892. During that time, he conducted "The President's Own" any time the president needed music for an event — a Marine Band prerogative. While conducting that band, Sousa served under presidents Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, and Benjamin Harrison.

The first Sousa band

In 1892, promoter David Blakely approached Sousa, and persuaded him to resign and organize a civilian concert band. The first “Sousa’s Band" concert was performed on September 26, 1892, at the Stillman Music Hall in Plainfield, New Jersey.

Sousa’s first operetta, El Capitan, made its debut in 1895. It was his most famous operetta and has been in production somewhere ever since it was written. He wrote 10 operettas.

In 1896, while Sousa and his wife were in Europe on a vacation, they received word that his promoter had died. On the voyage home, John was inspired to write "The Stars and Stripes Forever."

Sousa's band continued to tour widely, and in 1900, they represented the United States at the Paris Exposition before touring Europe. They toured Europe successfuly three times, the first in 1900, the second in 1901, and the last in 1905. In 1910, Sousa organized a successful world tour.

Sousa joined the U.S. Naval Reserve at age 62 in 1917, during World War I, and was given the rank of lieutenant. Following the war, he continued to tour with his band. He fought for the causes of music education and composers' rights, even testifying before Congress in 1927 and 1928. Over the band's 40-year lifetime, they gave 15,200 concerts.

Conducting to the last

After conducting a rehearsal of the Ringgold Band in Reading, Pennsylvania, on March 6, 1932, John Philip Sousa died at the age of 77. The last piece he conducted was "The Stars and Stripes Forever."

He remains the best-known composer of band marches. He composed 135, the most famous being Stars and Stripes, the nation's official march.

Sousa was inducted into the Washington (D.C.) Area Music Hall of Fame, in 2002.

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John Philip Sousa
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John Philip Sousa
... Philip Sousa, America's "March King" Born: November 6, 1854 Died: March 6, 1932 John Philip Sousa was an American entertainer and composer. He is best remembered for his marches, his band, and his patriotism. Known as the "MaJohn Philip Sousa was an American entertainer and composer. He is best remembered for his marches, his band, and his patriotism. Known as the "March King," he ...
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