Today in History: John Philip Sousa becomes director of US Marine Corps Band in 1880

October 1st, 2013

Famed American composer and bandmaster John Philip Sousa was appointed director of the US Marine Band on October 1, 1880. Known as the “March King,” Sousa wrote more than 120 marches, including “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” which has served as the national march of the United States for 25 years.

Sousa was born in 1854 in Washington, DC, and was an avid musician at the age of six. As a child, Sousa studied many instruments that would later feature in his marches, including the piano, flute, cornet, trombone, and violin, among others. His father, John Antonio Sousa, was a trombonist in the Marine Band and recruited Sousa to serve as an apprentice in the band. After learning how to conduct, Sousa was selected to serve as the head of the US Marine Band in 1880, serving in that position for 12 years. 

Sousa’s first published march was “The Gladiator March” in 1886. His second published march, “Semper Fidelis,” became the official march of the Marine Corps. Sousa’s most famous march, “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” was composed in 1896 while he was returning from a trip to Europe. Sousa described the feeling of returning to America and how “in a foreign country the sight of the Stars and Stripes seems the most glorious in the world.” For a musical rendition of the march, watch the United States Marine Band’s performance from the John Philip Sousa Band Hall at Marine Barracks Annex. 

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