John Philip Sousa

Press above to listen to "Semper Fidelis"

When John Philip Sousa was thirteen, he decided to run away from home and join the circus. His father, a member of the Marine Band, found out what his son was planning and discussed the problem with the commandant. Mr. Sousa thought his son needed the training and discipline of the Corps. The commandant agreed, and John was enlisted as an apprentice, a common practice in 1868.

John and his father served together in the Marine Band until 1875. Then John became a civilian bandmaster, touring the country. His father stayed in Washington and worked for the commandant as a cabinetmaker.

Five years later the commandant was unhappy with the Marine Band and asked John Philip Sousa to become its fourteenth leader. Under his direction the band played concerts at the White House, the Marine Barracks at Eighth and I, and on the Capitol Plaza. In 1891 Sousa received President Benjamin Harrison's permission to take the band on a national tour, an annual event ever since. Sousa's showmanship and executive musical ability made the band a success from coast to coast.

Sousa was beginning to become famous as a composer of marches; the public called him the March King. He wrote "Semper Fidelis," which later was adopted as the official march of the Marine Corps.

Chuck Lawliss, The Marine Book

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