"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, 1973, by Paul
E. Bierley, p.74.
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).
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.
Great Soloists of Sousa's Band
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
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
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)
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.
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.
***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
The Sousa Band -- America's First Superstar
YouTube Video: John Philip Sousa: His Story and His Music
"Sousa at Chautauqua." Circa 1925. Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991 from the Library of Congress
Sousa's Biography from Wikipedia
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