1854 – 1932
I am a salesman of Americanism, globetrotter and musician.To reach every heart by simple stirring music…this was my mission. I wanted to make music for the people, a music to be grasped at once.
– John Philip Sousa
Before Elvis Presley, John Philip Sousa was the most famous musician in the world. His marches are at the top of the most recognized tune list. His conducting and his band, Sousa’s Band, electrified enormous audiences where ever they played.
Sousa’s father, Antonio, played trombone in the U.S. Marine Corps Band. When Philip was six, his father enrolled him in a variety of musical studies, including the study of voice, violin, piano, flute, cornet, euphonium, trombone, and alto horn. After talking of running away to join a circus band when he was 13, his father enlisted him as an apprentice in the U.S. Marine Corps Band.
In 1872, at the age of 18, Sousa published his first composition, Moonlight on the Potomac Waltzes. By 1875, he had left the military and began performing on violin, touring, and conducting theater orchestras. Sousa conducted Gilbert & Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore on Broadway, where he met his wife, Jane van Middlesworth Bellis.
In 1880, Sousa returned to the military to lead the U.S. Marine Corps Band. He is credited with raising this band to the highest standards of musical performance. He led the band for more than ten years until resigning to organize a civilian concert band called Sousa’s Band. Sousa became a superstar. Sousa’s Band was the most popular band in the world and included many of the world’s finest wind players. The band toured for 30 years and traveled over one million miles, crossing the United States many times, Europe four times, and it was the first American musical group to tour the world.
Sousa was prolific, and he had a genius for melody. He wrote 136 marches, including America’s national march, The Stars and Stripes Forever (1897), The Washington Post (1889), and Semper Fidelis (1888), the official march of the U.S. Marine Corps. The Liberty Bell (1893) is the famous theme song for the British TV show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
But that’s not all! Sousa composed 15 operettas, including El Capitan(1896), at least 70 songs, 11 waltzes, 12 other dance pieces, 11 suites, 14 humoresques, and 27 fantasies. In the 1890s, Sousa redeveloped an ancestor of the tuba called the helicon, made to his specifications by J.W. Pepper and manufactured by C.G. Conn. It was later called the sousaphone.
Author, Activist, Trapshooter
He also wrote five novels, an autobiography Marching Along, and numerous articles. He was an outspoken advocate for musicians and composers, helping to found ASCAP, to protect the rights of music composers and publishers. He is in the Trapshooters Hall of Fame and was an accomplished horseman.
Highlights of John Philip Sousa’s Life
- 1854 – Born on November 6 in Washington DC
- 1860 – Begins musical study
- 1867 – Enlisted by his father into the U.S. Marine Corps after talk of joining the circus,/li>
- 1872 – First composition, Moonlight on the Potomac Waltzes
- 1874-1880 – Plays in and conducts theater productions including H.M.S. Pinafore on Broadway and Matt Morgan’s Living Pictures (featuring unclad women in tableau)
- 1880 – Becomes director of the U.S. Marine Corps Band
- 1892 – Founds Sousa’s Band
- 1893 – First big gig for Sousa’s Band. World’s Columbian Expo in Chicago
- 1900 – First European Tour. The band plays first game of baseball in Paris at the Paris Exposition on July 4
- 1910 – World Tour
- 1914 – After coining the term “canned music” in 1906, Sousa co-founds ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers). He testifies before Congress to ensure critical royalty rights for composers, lyricists, and publishers
- 1932 – John Philip Sousa died from a heart attack on March 6 in Reading, Pennsylvania after directing the Ringgold Band and eating a good meal