Song Collection Stars and Stripes Forever

Let martial note in triumph float
And liberty extend its mighty hand...

John Philip Sousa was America's "March King." He was surrounded by music from birth: his father played trombone with the U.S. Marine Band and as a child he studied violin as well as music theory. He grew up during the Civil War in Washington, D.C., where martial music was frequently played both in homes and on the streets.

Sousa attended band rehearsals with his father and, after his parents disapproved of his joining a circus band, was pressed into service as an apprentice musician with the Marine Band. By age twenty-six he was the Band's director -- a position he held from 1880-1892. During those years Sousa added to the Band's repertoire not only the work of Europe's then contemporary composers (Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Wagner and others) but also compositions of his own such as "President Garfield's Inauguration March (1881)," "Semper Fidelis (1888)," and "The Washington Post" (1889).

Sousa was the greatest musical star of his era, combining the charisma and popularity of Leonard Bernstein and the Beatles. He was so popular that he left the Marine Band to start his own band in 1892. It toured the nation with unparalleled success.

Four years later, while on vacation in Europe with his wife, Sousa received word that his good friend and band manager, David Blakely, had died. Sousa quickly returned to the States aboard the S.S. Teutonic. Pacing the deck of the ship, the music of "The Stars and Stripes Forever" began to come to him, its first stirring notes being those of the "Dies Irae." As he wrote in his autobiography, " ...absorbed in thoughts of my manager's death and the many duties and decisions which awaited me in New York. Suddenly, I began to sense a rhythmic beat of a band playing within my brain. Throughout the whole tense voyage, that imaginary band continued to unfold the same themes, echoing and re-echoing the most distant melody. I did not transfer a note of that music to paper while I was on the steamer, but when we reached shore, I set down the measures that my brain-band had been playing for me, and not a note of it has ever changed." For twenty-five years Sousa's Band played the march at almost every concert it held. Although the piece is always played as an instrumental, Sousa did set words -- somewhat triumphalistic by today's standards -- to it.

Let martial note in triumph float
And liberty extend its might hand
A flag appears 'mid thunderous cheers,
The banner of the Western land.

Image: Paris Exposition 1900 Sousa Band "Stars and Stripes forever"
Paris Exposition 1900 Sousa Band "Stars and Stripes forever".
1 photographic print on stereo card : stereograph, William H. Rau, publisher, c1900.
Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Sousa always wore a neat military-like uniform when he conducted, displayed a lot of vim and vigor on stage, and carried himself with remarkably fine posture. He was the prolific composer of 15 operettas, 70 songs, numerous overtures, concert pieces, vocal works, waltzes, books and articles, along with his 136 marches.

"The Stars and Stripes Forever" was declared the National March of the United States in 1987. Sousa's other marches included "El Capitan," "The Pathfinder of Panama," "Hands Across the Sea," "Solid Men to the Front" and "The High School Cadets." Sousa also composed a number of pieces to encourage student bands and music education in U.S. schools: "Marquette University March," "University of Illinois March" and "University of Nebraska March."

The Dayton Miller Flute Collection

Piccolo in C, from Dayton Miller Flute Collection
Piccolo in C, from Dayton Miller Flute Collection.
Used by Louis P. Fritze, Sousa's Band.
After William G. Schulze, New Haven, CT, c1900

Flute in C, from Dayton Miller Flute Collection
Flute in C, from Dayton Miller Flute Collection.
Used by Louis P. Fritze, Sousa's Band.
Boehm and Mendler, Munich, 1862-1881

The "Flute in C" with silver keys and ferrules was used for 11 years by Mr. Louis P. Fritze, a member of the Sousa Band. He played it in the Band's 1910 around-the-world tour. It has been repaired by a broad silver band at the socket of the head-joint and had mother-of-pearl set in the "stopper."

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Related Web Sites
Print Bibliography
  1. Berger, Kenneth W. The march king and his band: the story of John Philip Sousa. New York: Exposition Press, 1957. Call number: ML410 .S688 B4.
  2. Newsom, Jon, ed. Perspectives on John Philip Sousa, with an introduction by Jon Newsom. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress/Government Printing Office, 1983. Call number: ML410 .S688 P47 1983.
  3. Patriotic and national observances, ceremonies, and organizations (Title 36). U.S. Code. Vol. 18, Sect. 304 (2000). Call number: KF62 2000 vol. 18.
  4. Schneider, Richard H. Stars & stripes forever: the history, stories, and memories of our American flag. New York: Morrow, 2003. Call number: CR113 .S36 2003.
  5. Sousa, John Philip. Marching along: recollections of men, women, and music. Edited by Paul E. Bierly. Westerville, Ohio: Integrity Press, 1994. Call number: ML410 .S688 A3 1994.
Format Web Pages
Contributors Library of Congress
Dates 2002
Location Washington
Washington D.C.
Subjects Article
Popular Songs of the Day
Songs and Music
Songs Collections
Title
Stars and Stripes Forever
Created / Published
Library of Congress, Washington, DC, 2002.
Subject Headings
-  Popular Songs of the Day
-  Songs and Music
-  Songs Collections
Genre
article
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