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Sousa, John Philip

Sousa, John Philip

Born in 1854


Inducted in 1998

John Philip Sousa was weaned to the sound of martial music. He was born two blocks from the Marine Barracks in Southeast Washington, the son of immigrants: a Spanish father of Portuguese descent and a Bavarian mother. His father, a trombonist in the United States Marine Band, saw to it that the boy was well trained in violin, harmony and composition. At 13 young Sousa attempted to join a traveling circus band, but his father intervened and enlisted him as an apprentice musician with the Marine Band, in which he remained until he was 20. The future composer continued to work actively as a theater violinist and conductor around Washington. When an opening occurred in 1880 for the directorship of the Marine Band, Sousa, though only 25, returned as Leader. It was his first experience conducting a band, and he approached it as no previous director had. He raised musical standards, improved the repertoire, increased the players' salaries, and took the band on tour. Over the next 40 years Sousa presented more than 15,000 concerts across the world. He brought orchestral standards to the concert band and helped to bring good music to the masses. The name Sousa's Band became synonymous with musical excellence. His stirring marches continued to pour forth and his reign as the "March King" was unquestioned. But marches were not all he composed, and actually constituted less than a quarter of his total output. Sousa was inducted into the Hall of Fame for Great Americans; his name was given to prominent bridge in Washington, D.C., and to several schools around the nation; thousands of young musicians and band enthusiasts donated money to fund construction of the stage in the Concert Hall of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, which was named the John Philip Sousa Stage; and the Sousa Baton is the cherished symbol of the leadership of the U.S. Marine Band. His incomparable masterpiece, The Stars and Stripes Forever, was declared the National March of the United States in 1987, after 15 previous efforts had failed. The legislation did not create its status as a national icon, however, but simply formalized what the world had long since acknowledged: that John Philip Sousa and his music are definitive expressions of the American character and the American spirit.