Happy birthday, John

November 6, 2015

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.

Some beautiful music for Sunday

June 14, 2015

Happy birthday, Julia

May 27, 2015

Julia Ward was born in New York City on May 27, 1819. She was an intelligent, inquisitive child who read voraciously, studied philosophy and literature, and became fluent in seven languages. In 1843 she married Samuel Gridley Howe, a physician and social reformer who founded the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston. While raising six children, Julia managed to write poetry, plays, and essays in her spare time. She was inspired to write “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” after a trip to Washington, DC in 1861 during which she and her husband met President Lincoln. The song was published in the Atlantic Monthly in February of 1862 and soon became wildly popular. When Julia died in 1910 at the age of 91, thousands of people attended her memorial service and sang the hymn in her memory.

Here is a performance of Julia Ward Howe’s greatest hit by the U.S. Marine Band and the Armed Forces Choir at the National Cathedral in Washington DC, at the funeral of Ronald Reagan on June 11, 2004.

Happy birthday to the United States Marine Corps

November 10, 2013

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