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John Philip Sousa (November 6, 1854 - March 6, 1932), popularly known as "The March King", is probably the most famous conductor and composer in history of military marches.

Sousa was born in Washington, D.C. to John António de Sousa and Maria Elisabeth Trinkhaus, parents of Portuguese and Bavarian (German) descent. When the young Sousa reached the age of 13, his father enlisted his son in the United States Marine Corps as an apprentice, shortly after he attempted to run away and join a circus.

Several years later, John left his apprenticeship to join a theatrical band. He learned to conduct, and returned to the U.S. Marine Band as its head in 1880. Sousa also led the marching band of Gonzaga College High School.

Sousa organized his own band in 1892. It toured widely, and in 1900, represented the United States at the Paris Exposition before touring Europe. Sousa repeatedly refused to conduct on the radio, fearing a lack of personal contact with the audience. He was finally persuaded to do so in 1929, and became a smash hit.

He wrote well over 100 marches; some of his most popular are: Transit of Venus March (1883) MIDI file Semper Fidelis (1888) The Washington Post March (1889) The Thunderer (1889) The Liberty Bell (1893) Manhattan Beach March (1893) King Cotton (1895) The Stars and Stripes Forever (1896) El Capitan (1896) Hands Across the Sea (1899) Fairest of the Fair (1908) U.S. Field Artillery (1917) The Gallant Seventh (1922) The Black Horse Troop (1924) Daughters of Texas (1929) The marching brass bass, or sousaphone, is named after him.

Sousa's Foshay Tower March (1929) was created for the opening of the eponymous high-rise building in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Wilbur Foshay's energy-trading empire crumbled to dust in the beginning of the Great Depression and his check in payment for the march bounced, as retaliation, Sousa forbade the playing of the march as long as Foshay's debt remained outstanding. 70 years after the opening, and long after both men were dust, a group of Minneapolis investors paid off Foshay's debt, allowing the march to be played once again.

In addition to hundreds of marches, Sousa wrote ten operas and a number of musical suites.

Sousa exhibited many talents aside from music. He authored three novels and a full length autobiography as well as a great number of articles and letters-to-the-editor on a variety of subjects. As a trapshooter, he ranks as one of the all-time greats, and his skill as a horseman met championship criteria.

He was in the vanguard of the reactionary camp in the music piracy wars of his era (cf. Recording Industry Association of America), in which authors of sheet music railed against the upstart recording industry. In a submission to a congressional hearing in 1906, he argued that:,

These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. When I was a boy ... in front of every house in the summer evenings, you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or old songs. Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day. We will not have a vocal cord left. The vocal cord will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape.

The operettas The Queen of Hearts, 1885, also known as Royalty and Roguery. The Smugglers, 1882. Desiree, 1883. El Capitan, 1895. The Bride Elect, 1897, libretto by Sousa. The Charlatan, 1898, also known as The Mystical Miss, lyrics by Sousa. Chris and the Wonderful Lamp, 1899. The Free Lance, 1905. The American Maid, 1909, also known as The Glass Blowers.

Sousa also composed the music for six operettas that were either unfinished or not produced: The Devils' Deputy, Florine, The Irish Dragoon, Katherine, The Victory, and The Wolf. The operetta El Capitan is the best known of the operettas. It has been in production somewhere in the world ever since it was written. Desiree and The Glass Blowers have had revivals. The music of the operettas is light and cheerful. Many of the marches are derived from themes of the operettas.

One year after the 1882 Transit of Venus, Sousa was commissioned to compose a processional for the unveiling of a bronze statue of American physicist Prof. Joseph Henry, who had died in 1878. Henry, who had developed the first electric motor, was also the first secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

A Freemason, Sousa was fascinated by what the group considered mystical qualities in otherwise natural phenomena. According to Sten Odenwald of the NASA IMAGE Science Center, this played a significant role in the selection of the time and date of the performance, April 19, 1883, at 4:00 P.M. Dr. Odenwald points out that Venus and Mars, invisible to the participants, were setting in the west. At the same time, the Moon, Uranus and Virgo were rising in the east, Saturn had crossed the meridian, and Jupiter was directly overhead. According to Masonic lore, Venus was associated with the element copper, and Joseph Henry had used large quantities of copper to build his electric motors.

The "Transit of Venus March never caught on, and went unplayed for more than 100 years, after Sousa's copies of the music were destroyed in a flood. As reported in The Washington Post, Library of Congress employee Loras Schissel recently found copies of the old sheet music for "Venus" languishing in the library's files. The piece was resurrected recently, in time for the 2004 Transit.

The composer and bandleader later wrote another work called The Transit of Venus, a 40,000-word prose story (written 1920) about a group of misogynists called the Alimony Club who, as a way of temporarily escaping the society of women, embark on a sea voyage to observe the transit of Venus. The captain's niece, however, has stown away on board and soon has won over the men

Every year on his birthday, members of the Marine Corp Band will gather at his tomb and give a mini-concert in honor of their groups founding.

John Philip Sousa: Plot R77/S163 south.

Having been invited to play with the Marine Corps Band at age 13, Sousa later became its director for 15 years, afterwards organizing his own band, touring the United States and Europe he earned the title "March King". During his prolific career, he produced comic operas, novels, waltzes, songs and symphonic poems. A native of DC, he was baptized at Concordia Lutheran church, (20th & G St., N.W.) on November 26, 1854. His mother was a German immigrant. The record is at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. and there is plaque on the church. He was later confirmed, married and buried from Christ Church (the founding church of Congressional Cemetery).

He could have been buried at Arlington, of course, but it seems fitting that the March King should rest at Congressional Cemetery. John Phillip Sousa set to music the flamboyant and joyous patriotism of the brave young nation which in essence is a nation of individuals not easily memorialized by similar chaste markers, row on row. Standing beside his grave and looking across the acres of flat marble slabs, table tombs, obelisks, cenotaphs, monuments of every conceivable design, it seems that here indeed is American soil, made of the dust of people who helped create our country. It is quite fitting that the last tombstone you see as you leave by the 17th Street gate records the resting place of a man named THOMAS AMERICA.

Herbert L. Clarke, Sousa's master cornetist is buried across the path from him. It was said that Clarke could play the chromatic scale up and down five times with one breath.

Source John Philip Sousa
Author dbking


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