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John Philip Sousa: The March King

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"The Sousa Band traveled around the world in 1910-1911. The Band is shown here in Johannesburg, South Africa, with violinists Nicoline Zedeler and Virginia Root"-- from John Philip Sousa, American Phenomenon, 1973, by Paul E. Bierley, p.74.

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John Philip Sousa - Our Inspiration and Hero

"John Philip Sousa - American Phenomenon" by Paul E. Bierley 1997 (rev. 2001). Available New and Used from Amazon.

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Sousa composed now little known Original Lyrics for "The Stars and Stripes Forever"...... This is the Chorus:

"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."

Sousa held a very low opinion of the emerging and upstart recording industry. Using an epithet coined by Mark Twain, he derided recordings as "canned music", a reference to the early wax cylinder records that came in can-like cylindrical cardboard boxes. In a submission to a congressional hearing in 1906, he argued:

"These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. When I was a boy...in front of every house in the summer evenings, you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or old songs. Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day. We will not have a vocal cord left. The vocal cord will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape."

Sousa's antipathy to recording was such that he almost never conducted his band when it was being recorded. Nevertheless, Sousa's band made numerous recordings, the earliest being issued on cylinders by several companies, followed by many recordings on discs by the Berliner Gramophone Company and its successor, the Victor Talking Machine Company (later RCA Victor).

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The Berliner recordings were conducted by Henry Higgins (one of Sousa's cornet soloists) and Arthur Pryor (Sousa's trombone soloist and assistant conductor), with Sousa quoted as saying, "I have never been in the gramophone company's office in my life." A handful of the Victor recordings were actually conducted by Sousa, but most were conducted by Pryor, Herbert L. Clarke, Edwin H. Clarke, or by four of Victor's most prolific house musicians: Walter B. Rogers (who had also been a cornet soloist with Sousa), Rosario Bourdon, Josef Pasternack, and Nathaniel Shilkret.

Links to Sousa, Noteworthy Musicians in Sousa's Band and James Reese Europe's "A Band to Rival Sousa".

  • Historic Bands and Bandsmen

    Great Soloists of Sousa's Band

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    Sousa's Band employed only three percussion players at any time during its entire existence. Since most music performed required four percussion players, one of the drummers would play both bass drum and cymbals. This was accomplished by attaching a cymbal to the top of the bass drum and playing it with a hand-held cymbal. Gus Helmecke, Sousa's favorite bass drummer, was highly regarded for the sounds he produced on bass drum and cymbals.

    August Helmecke Jr was born in 1872 in Germany. His father was a percussionist in a German military band. He began studies of drums at an early age. In 1888 he joined a travelling concert group as the percussionist. The group made their way to the United States only to meet failure, thus leaving Helmecke without employment. However, he soon got a position with the New York Metropolitan opera orchestra. In 1905 he also joined the newly organized Goldman band during their summer concert series. Mostly he played vaudeville houses across North America.

    His style of bass drumming fitted Sousa and his musical instincts and in 1916 he was hired -- remaining with Sousa until 1932. Helmecke revolutionized bass drumming, was considered a world class performer on the instrument and was the highest paid musician in Sousa's Band. He authored a book on drumming which was published by Conn in 1930. After appearing for several years with Sousa he joined the Goldman band and continued to receive rave notices. He often appeared as soloist almost rightup to his death in 1954.


    Sousa wrote over 130 marches, 15 operettas, 5 overtures, 511 suites, 24 dances, 28 fantasies, and countless arrangements of nineteenth-century western European symphonic works. A partial list of Sousa's more famous Marches, and the year of composition in chronological order, are presented below.

    • "The Gladiator March" (1886)
    • "Semper Fidelis" (1888) (Official March of the United States Marine Corps)
    • "The Washington Post" (1889)
    • "The Thunderer" (1889)
    • "High School Cadets" (1890)
    • "The Liberty Bell" (1893) (later used as the credits theme for Monty Python's Flying Circus TV series)
    • "Manhattan Beach March" (1893)
    • "King Cotton" (1895)
    • "Stars and Stripes Forever" (1896) (National March of the United States)
    • "El Capitan" (1896)
    • "Hands Across the Sea" (1899)
    • "Invincible Eagle" (1901) (dedicated to Pan-American Buffalo Exposition)
    • "Fairest of the Fair" (1908)
    • "Glory of the Yankee Navy" (1909)
    • "The New York Hippodrome" (1915)
    • "U.S. Field Artillery" (1917) (modified version "The Army Goes Rolling Along" is the official song of the U.S. Army)
    • "Anchor & Star" (1918) Dedicated "To the U.S. Navy"
    • "The Gallant Seventh" (1922)
    • "Nobles of the Mystic Shrine" (1923)
    • "The Black Horse Troop" (1924) (written in honor of Troop A, 107th Cavalry, Ohio National Guard).
    • "Pride of the Wolverines" (1926)
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    This 2 cent John Philip Sousa postage stamp was issued in 1940 as part of the 35 stamp "Famous Americans" Series. Five Amercan Composers were honored in this series, Sousa, along with Stephen Foster, Victor Herbert, Edward MacDowell and Ethelbert Nevin.

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    The Stars and Stripes Forever! It remains the most popular of Sousa's marches. It is played throughout the country at fireworks displays on July 4th. It was the last piece Sousa conducted before his death in 1932.

    The stamp was issued in 1997 and commemorates the 100th anniversary of the debut of the march. It was issued at STAMPSHOW 1997, a convention of the American Philatelic Society.

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    ***The Nineteenth-Century American Wind Band***

    by Dr. Stephen L. Rhodes

    The American Community Band: History and Development

    The Stars and Stripes Forever: Our National March

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    The Sousa Band -- America's First Superstar

    YouTube Video: John Philip Sousa: His Story and His Music

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    "Sousa at Chautauqua." Circa 1925. Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991 from the Library of Congress

    Sousa's Biography from Wikipedia

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    Sousa's Favorite Picture of Himself

    YouTube Video: John Philip Sousa's Birthday Ceremony -- Nov. 6, 1920 -- held at Congrestional Cemetary Washington DC -- Featuring the United States Marine Band -- Face Masks and All!


    Articles: Keith Bryon and his New Sousa Band (1979)

    1. Sousa's Marches, As He Conducted Them by Keith Brion

    2. Bass Drum with Attached Cymbal Playing as Employed in Concert Bands of the Sousa Era and the Modern Concert Band as Employed in Concert Bands of the Sousa Era and the Modern Concert Band -- by Brian W. Holt

    3. The Roll of the Snare Drum in the Concert Band by Brian W. Holt

    The Sousa March -- a Personal View -- by Frederick Fennell (1914-2004) -- Library of Congress

    The last and almost least is the following Hollywood Film "Stars and Stripes Forever". It is a typical Hollywood Biopic that purports to present the events of Sousa's life, but plays fast and loose with the truth at almost every turn -- starting with Who actually invented the Sousaphone. But what the heck. It is fun to watch and is filled with Sousa's music throughout. I think only Clifton Webb could have played the part.

    YouTube Video:The Hollywood Techni-Color Film Titled "Stars and Stripes Forever" -- 1952 -- starring Clifton Webb as Sousa