Washington, DC’s 5th Gift to the World–Music (Sousa)

The music of John Philip Sousa (1854 – 1932) is part of our fifth gift to the world. Sousa was born in Washington, D.C. and began his musical studies with the violin at age 6. He had perfect pitch – the ability to identify and produce any musical note by name. At age 13, his father enlisted him as an apprentice in the United States Marine Corps band, where he himself was a trombonist. Sousa completed his apprenticeship over the course of seven years. During this time he is said to have learned to play all the wind instruments and further master the skills of a violinist. After a brief time serving as a conductor for a theatrical orchestra, Sousa returned to the U.S. Marine Band as its head in 1880, and remained as its conductor until 1892. In his spare time, he also led the marching band of Gonzaga College High School.

Known as the "march king," Sousa ranks among the most famous American composers and conductors. After leaving the Marine Band, he formed his own band, whose members were considered the best in the world on their instruments. The band toured Europe several times before becoming the first American musical organization to make a tour around the world.

Sousa also credited with inventing a tuba specifically for marching bands – the aptly named sousaphone. He composed well over a hundred marches in all – plus various other musical works outside the marching genre. In fact, one march The Stars and Stripes Forever, is the official march of the United States of America.

Perhaps that’s why they used to joke "You can’t spell Sousa without USA…"

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