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John Philip Sousa

band leader and composer

John Philip Sousa

John Philip Sousa was born in Washington, D.C., on November 6, 1854, the third of ten children born to John Antonio and Maria Elisabeth (Trinkhaus) Sousa. His father played trombone in the U.S. Marine Band, and John showed an aptitude for music from a very early age. In addition to a basic education in the local public schools, he also studied voice, violin, piano, flute, cornet, baritone, trombone, and alto horn at a private conservatory, beginning at the age of six. At the age of thirteen, Sousa tried to run away to join a circus band, but his father intervened and enlisted him in the Marine Band as an apprentice instead. Except for one period of six months, he remained in the Marine Band until being discharged from the Marines in 1875. During this period, he also studied music theory and composition with George Felix Benkert.

After his discharge from the Marines, Sousa began performing, on violin, in theater and touring orchestras. Before long he was also conducting theater orchestras, including on Broadway. On December 30, 1879, he married Jane van Middlesworth Bellis, whom he had during orchestra rehearsals for the Broadway production of H.M.S. Pinafore, which he was conducting. The couple ultimately had three children -- John Philip Jr., Jane Priscilla, and Helen.

Sousa's fame began growing soon after he assumed leadership of the Marine Band in 1880. Under his direction, the Marine Band became the most renowned military band in the world. The Marine Band made its first recordings while under his leadership, 60 cylinders for the Columbia Phonograph Company in 1890; by 1897, the Marine Band had released over 400 different titles. He also led the Marine Band on two limited tours, in 1891 and 1892.

After leading the Marine Band on two limited tours in 1891 and 1892, Sousa left the Marines and formed his own band. The Sousa Band gave its first concert at the Stillman Music Hall in lainfield, New Jersey, on September 26, 1892, and toured for the next forty years, including two world tours and four European tours. Sousa also served as bandmaster for the United States Navy from 1917 to 1919.

In addition to his work as a conductor, Sousa was also a prolific composer. His first composition, "Moonlight on the Potomac," a waltz, was published in 1872, and his first march, "Review," was published in 1873. By the time of his death, Sousa had published 136 marches (including "Stars and Stripes Forever"), 70 songs, 15 operettas, 11 waltzes, 9 trumpet and drum pieces, 7 miscellaneous vocal pieces, 4 instrumental pieces, 4 overtures, 2 concert pieces, and 2 descriptive pieces. He was also the author of three novels, and his autobiography, Marching Along, was published in 1928.

John Philip Sousa died in Reading, Pennsylvania, on March 6, 1932, a day after conducting a rehearsal of the Ringgold Band, and was buried in the family plot at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

A Capitol Fourth
Dallas Wind Symphony

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This page was last updated on 11/06/2017.