American Treasures of the Library of Congress: Memory, Exhibit Object Focus

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Stars and Stripes

The Stars and Stripes Forever
John Philip Sousa (1854-1932)
"The Stars and Stripes Forever"
Holograph score for band,
April 26, 1897
Music Division

Stars and Stripes Forever
John Philip Sousa
"Stars and Stripes Forever"
Piano score, 1897
Music Division
Gift of the Sousa Estate (151.14)

"March music is for the feet, not for the head," John Philip Sousa once stated. "The Stars and Stripes Forever," composed in 1896, is indeed music for the feet, but it has also become a musical calling card for our nation. Sousa's genius lay in his skill as a composer of great melodies and his ability to fashion them into a cohesive and "organic" whole. "The Stars and Stripes Forever" gets people up on their feet, marching forward together. Band music was so popular in America that esteemed classical musicians developed professional touring concert bands, and Sousa's band was at the forefront.

On the composition of marches Sousa was unusually silent, but toward the end of his life he stated his philosophy of setting pen to paper in march time: "A march speaks to a fundamental rhythm in the human organization and is answered. A march stimulates every centre of vitality, wakens the imagination . . . . But a march must be good. It must be as free from padding as a marble statue. Every line must be carved with unerring skill. Once padded it ceases to be a march. There is no form of musical composition wherein the harmonic structure must be more clear-cut. The whole process is an exacting one. There must be a melody which appeals to the musical and the unmusical alike. There must be no confusion in counterpoint."

Hurrah for the flag of the free!
May it wave as our standard forever,
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right.
Let despots remember the day
When our fathers with mighty endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray
That by their might and by their right
it waves forever.
--John Philip Sousa

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