John Philip Sousa Commemoration

The U.S. Marine Band commemorates the 165th birthday of John Philip Sousa in a ceremony at the Congressional Cemetery Washington, DC., November 6, 2019.

Subscribe to Dr. Justin Imel, Sr. by Email


Sir, the band has fallen in.

Take your place.

Aye, aye, sir. (‘Semper Fidelis’ by John Philip Sousa)

Please rise for the presentation of the colors and remain standing for our national anthem.

[Officer] March! On! The colors! (Officer giving marching orders) Company come, halt! Present arms!

(‘The Star-Spangled Banner’)

Retire arms! Retire the colors! Out! Out turn! March! Men, parade left!

[Conductor] Please be seated, please be seated. We gather here today on hallowed ground. The final resting place of the most famous musician of the United States Marine Corps. John Philip Sousa. He died in Reading Pennsylvania on Sunday, March the 6th, 1932 and was laid to rest here on the 10th of March. Bringing to close an illustrious career that began as a Marine Corps apprentice musician, and that ended as the internationally renowned ‘March King’. The United States Marine Band is here today to commemorate his life and his legacy. Welcome to all of you, and thank you for being here with us on this very important day. Very special welcome to all members of the Sousa family. If anyone here is a descendant of the Sousa family, would you please stand and be recognized? So wonderful to see you again. Also, a special welcome to any former members of the United States Marine Band. Anybody here a former member? I met a couple of you earlier. Yes, Mark, thank you very much for being here and sharing the day with us. (applause) And, a welcome to all of you across the country enjoying this celebration for the first time on our live stream. Thank you for being here with us as well. One more thank you before I begin, and that’s a very special thank you to the Congressional Cemetery staff for their steadfast support of this important site. And their care and maintenance of it throughout the course of the year, not just for today. Thank you, Congressional Cemetery staff. (applause) And a special, one more shout out, to Monica Mills who I met, there she is, this morning, who’s recently adopted this site, and has taken such good care of it for us and had planted these beautiful arrangements you see here today, for us to enjoy. Thank you very much, Miss Mills. (applause) Today marks John Philip Sousa’s 165th birthday. He was born on November 6th 1854 at 636 G Street Southeast, less than three blocks from the Historic Marine Barracks in Washington. His father, Antonio, was a trombonist in the Marine Band, ensuring that Sousa was surrounded by music since his earliest days. His schooling began at home, where in addition to reading and writing, he received his first instruction in music at just six years old. In time, his studies would include lessons on piano, violin, flute, coronet, alto horn, yes that’s a thing, alto horn. Baritone, trombone, and in music composition. During Sousa’s busy childhood, the civil war was raging, and Washington was an armed camp. The sounds of military bands filled the city and had a profound affect on young Sousa. His father would often bring John Philip to Marine Band rehearsals and the budding musician was even permitted to play cymbals or that infamous alto horn with the band on occasion. But the account of the beginning of Sousa’s Marine Band Career, is almost too fantastic to believe. When only 13 years old, Sousa was approached by the leader of a circus band who heard him practicing his violin. Impressed by his ability, the band leader persuaded young Sousa to secretly run away from home to join the circus (laughter) for a tour that started the next day. Thankfully, the plan was discovered by his father and early the next morning, June the 9th 1868, he escorted John Philip to the Marine barracks and had him enlisted as an apprentice musician in The President’s Own United States Marine Band. (sighs) The decisions we parents have to make sometimes, huh? After serving almost seven years with the marine band, Sousa decided to leave the marine corps and headed out on his own. He began a very successful career performing and conducting in theater orchestras in Washington D.C. and Philadelphia, while also beginning to write and publish some of his own original compositions. Five years after leaving the marine band, the Commandant of the Marine Corps himself approached Sousa and offered him the position of Director of The President’s Own. And, despite the fact that he was in the midst of a very successful civilian career, Sousa answered the call. He jumped at the opportunity, and on October the 1st 1880, at the age of 25, he enlisted once again for service with the Marine Band, this time as our 17th Director. For the next 12 years, Sousa lead the Marine Band and established it as the country’s premier military band. Rehearsals became exceptionally strict and professional. The quality of the band improved rapidly. Marine Band concerts quickly attracted discriminating audiences and the reputation of the band began to spread well beyond our nation’s capitol. It’s also during this time when he took over our band, that Sousa began to write the marches that would later earn him the title ‘The March King’. In 1888 came ‘Semper Fidelis’, the march that you heard earlier this morning. Which he dedicated to the officers that had enlisted of the United States Marine Corps, and shortly after, in the year 1889, he penned ‘The Thunderer’, and some of these kids’ favorites, ‘The Washington Post’. The Marine Band and Sousa became tremendously popular around Washington, and Sousa was determined to share the towns of its musicians beyond those borders. The borders of the capitol city. In 1891 after receiving permission directly from President Benjamin Harrison, Sousa took the band on its first ever national concert tour, traveling through 13 states in New England and through the Mid-West. And as the story goes, Sousa had the band at the White House the day before this important meeting with President Harrison, and talking to the First Lady about this upcoming meeting, maybe a little anxiety about his plans about taking the band out, he kinda got it off his chest and maybe even tested a few arguments. The next day, as Sousa tells this story, he walked into the meeting with the President, the President turned around and said, “I heard all about it. “You can take the band.” (laughter) Smart man, that John Philip Sousa, smart man. The trip was a tremendous success, and a second national concert tour was scheduled for the following year, taking the band all the way to the west coast. These tours soon became an incredibly important part of the band’s identity, and its ability to connect directly with the American people. That’s a practice we proudly continue to this day, more than 125 years, since he took the band out the first time. After more than a decade as Director, Sousa’s growing popularity and success prompted him to leave the Marine Band and form his own civilian band. He received his discharge following a special Farewell Concert at the White House on July 30th 1892, and he immediately formed the Sousa band. For the next nearly 40 years, he lead the most successful civilian band in history. He made annual tours of North America, he took the band on four European Tours, and in 1910 and 1911, he did a monumental World Tour. During his lifetime and beyond, Sousa had an immense impact on American culture. The most notable influence was the development of the concert bands. The repertoire, the instrumentation, and the quality of performance were all strongly affected by Mr. Sousa. Music education in America also received a huge boost by the success and popularity of Sousa and his bands. And towards the end of his life, he even served on a select committee codifying the exact melody of our newly adopted ‘Star Spangled Banner’ as the national anthem. These are notes we all proudly sing today. And that brings me to perhaps the greatest and most enduring influence of John Philip Sousa. He was an unabashed cheerleader of the American spirit. Freedom and Liberty were constant themes in his music and his writings. And although his life ended over 85 years ago, his music lives on and continues to inspire and stir American patriotism all across this nation, and beyond. Today, on John Philip Sousa’s birthday, the men and women of the United States Marine Band are once again honored to gather at his final resting place and lay a wreath in grateful recognition for all he gave to the Marine Band and to our nation. Following the wreath laying, we will celebrate his legacy by performing his most famous march, our national march, ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever’.

[Officer] And at attention!

(‘Stars and Stripes Forever’ by John Philip Sousa)

[Officer] Permission to close the ceremony?

March out in formation.

Aye aye Sir.

Part-time march! (steady drums)

Share with Friends:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.