Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, June 4, 2018

Remembering a Veteran: John Philip Sousa, Band Leader, Composer

Sousa During the War in Naval Uniform
John Philip Sousa (1852–1934) was born in Washington, DC, on 6 November 1854. His father was born in Spain of Portuguese parents and his mother was Bavarian. Sousa, known as the "March King," ranks among the most famous American composers and conductors.

Sousa was the leader of the U.S. Marine Band from 1880 until 1892. After leaving the Marine Band, he formed his own band, which toured Europe several times and was the first American band to make a tour around the world. On 25 December 1896, he debuted "The Stars and Stripes Forever"—his most loved piece. He was, therefore, already world famous when the Great War broke out.

During the First World War, Sousa was asked to train young musicians from the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. Sousa prepared hundreds and formed bands for different Navy ships, eventually receiving the rank of lieutenant commander. He also found time to provide accompaniment for Liberty Loan rallies and Red Cross fundraising drives. He composed some two dozen pieces related to the war, the most recognizable being the "Field Artillery March." He also created a moving accompaniment to John McCrae's immortal poem "In Flanders Fields."

John Philip Sousa died on 6 March 1932 in Reading, PA, and is buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC. In 1987 a law was passed by Congress, and signed by President Reagan, designating "Stars and Stripes Forever" the official march of the United States of America.

Grave Marker, Congressional Cemetery (Steve Miller Photograph)


  1. He was fit and lived a long, rich life, probably because of all the marching he did??

  2. Although Sousa is best known for his music, he was also a highly skilled trap shooter and enthusiastic supporter of that sport. Although he didn't exactly fulfill the adage that every Marine is first a rifleman, his expertise with a shotgun while leading the Marine Band came close.

  3. Late in his life Sousa wrote two marches for the Kansas State Agricultural College (now University) entitled Salute to Kansas and Kansas Wildcats. The latter piece is regularly performed by the K-State Band.

  4. When he served in the Naval Reserve during the Great War, he accepted only $1.00 per year in pay! He was a truly great American on all levels.

  5. He said that a good march should make a man with a wooden leg want to step out.

  6. I loved playing Sousa marches in my high school and college marching bands! Great composer.

  7. There is a Sousa exhibit at the National Museum of the US Marine Corps, Quantico, VA.

    Steve Miller

  8. Few people may know that it was the celebrated conductor/composer Sousa that discovered the future conductor/composer/US WW1 Army officer(Harlem Hellfighters) James Reese Europe in Washington DC as a child and provided him the opportunity to study under Enrico Hurlei of the Marine Band. The eminent conductor lived just up the street from the Europe home and passed by on his walk to the Navy Yard each day.