This year marks the 120th anniversary of “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” the iconic patriotic march written by composer John Philip Sousa (1854-1932).
Known as “The March King,” Sousa was on a European vacation when he received word that the manager of The Sousa Band, David Blakely, had died suddenly. The band would soon begin a new cross-country tour, which meant that Sousa had to return to the United States immediately. As he related in his 1928 autobiography, Marching Along:
As the vessel (the Teutonic) steamed out of the harbor I was pacing on the deck, absorbed in thoughts of my manager’s death and the many duties and decisions which awaited me in New York. Suddenly, I began to sense a rhythmic beat of a band playing within my brain. Throughout the whole tense voyage, that imaginary band continued to unfold the same themes, echoing and re-echoing the most distinct melody. I did not transfer a note of that music to paper while I was on the steamer, but when we reached shore, I set down the measures that my brain-band had been playing for me, and not a note of it has ever changed.
“The Stars and Stripes Forever” was an instant success and became known as the masterpiece of Sousa’s long career. Sousa died on March 6, 1932 after a rehearsal in which the last piece he conducted was “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”
In 1987, Congress named Sousa’s magnum opus the National March of the United States of America.
Today, “The Stars and Stripes Forever” is played at the conclusion of a Presidential speech and traditionally ends Fourth of July concert and fireworks events such as PBS’s “A Capital Fourth” (http://www.pbs.org/a-capitol-fourth/home/) and The Boston Pops Orchestra’s “Fireworks Spectacular” (https://www.bso.org/).
Happy Independence Day 2016, America!
Listen to our National March, composed by John Philip Sousa, a man whose surname as well as his best loved composition is “So-USA!”
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