Happy birthday, John

It’s the birthday of the March King, John Philip Sousa, who was born in Washington D.C. in 1854.

Stuff I didn’t know before I started researching Sousa for this post:

John and his nine siblings were first-generation Americans. Their father, Antonio, was born in Spain to Portuguese parents, and their mother, Maria, was born in Bavaria.

As a child, John studied voice, violin, piano, flute, cornet, trombone, baritone horn, and alto horn. (Where he found time to do anything else remains a mystery.)

At age 13 John tried to run away from home and join a circus band. In response, his father enlisted him in the U.S. Marine Band as an apprentice.

After he was discharged from the Marines in 1875, John pursued a career as a musician, composer, and conductor. In addition to more than a hundred marches, he composed a dozen operettas, more than a hundred songs, and works for many different solo instruments and instrumental ensembles.

Between 1892 and 1931, he toured the United States and the world with his band, appropriately named The Sousa Band. They gave more than 15,000 concerts, which if you do the math works out to more than a concert a day for four decades.

He was a humble and deeply religious man. Asked about the source of his extraordinary talent and creativity, Sousa replied that it came from a Higher Power.

In 1907 Sousa composed a march in honor of Pocahontas. I kid you not. It’s called “Powhatan’s Daughter” and was written to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Jamestown colony.

Despite the wealth that his combination of talent and hard work had earned him, Sousa had no interest in retirement. He continued working right up until his death in 1932.

Sousa, his wife Jane, and their three children are buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, the city of his birth.

Here is the United States Marine Corps Band playing “The Thunderer” in the Congressional Cemetery. This performance took place on Sousa’s 155th birthday in 2009.

5 Responses to Happy birthday, John

  1. Is it true that their last name wasn’t originally “Sousa”, and either he or his father added “USA” to it because they loved America so much?

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    • According to what I read, that particular bit of fiction was concocted by the Sousa Band’s manager as a publicity stunt while the band was on one of its European tours. (It does make a good story.) JP’s father was Portuguese, and Sousa/Souza is a fairly common family name in Portugal.

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      • That makes sense.

        But it’s true about Ulysses S. (“U. S.”) Grant, right?

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        • According to the New York Historical Society, the “S” was the result of a clerical error on his application to West Point. Despite his efforts to clear up the error, the “S” appeared on his diploma and his commission from the academy, and eventually he resigned himself to it and signed his name that way forever after. At least that’s their story and they’re sticking to it. 🙂 (source)

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  2. […] Happy birthday, John Philip Sousa […]

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