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Photograph of riders on horses above title information.
Cover page for “Black Horse Troop,” march dedicated to troop A-Cleveland by John Philip Sousa, printed score for piano. [1925]. M28.S (Case).

The Triple Crown of Researching John Philip Sousa

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The following is a guest post from Music Division Archivist Jane Cross to announce the release of a new finding aid on the John Philip Sousa Collection.

One must travel to at least three repositories to fully research the legendary bandmaster and composer John Philip Sousa (1854-1932). While it is fortunate that the materials at each location are fairly distinct, it is still unusual for the archives and personal effects of one person to wind up so widely dispersed. How did that happen, and what materials are where?

Black and white image of Sousa on running horse, "Bessie" next to George O'Donnel also on a running horse.
Unidentified photographer. John Philip Sousa and George O’Donnel on horseback, 1905, Mapcase-folder 10, John Philip Sousa Collection, Music Division.

United States Marine Band Library

By the early 1970s, Sousa’s heirs needed to divest themselves of their famous ancestor’s townhouses in New York City and Washington, D.C. The house at 318 Independence Avenue SE in Washington had been offered at a lower-than-market price to the American Bandmasters Association as the location for a Sousa museum along with a selection of Sousa memorabilia, including uniforms and other clothing, conducting batons, medals and trophies, photographs, press clippings, correspondence, financial documents, books, artwork, study scores, libretti, recordings, instruments, tour trunks, and firearms. The museum concept was never realized, and the trove of Sousa artifacts, music, and personal effects ultimately became the property of the National Museum of the Marine Corps as curated by the United States Marine Band. There the materials joined the encore books and several holograph music manuscripts, described in the John Philip Sousa Papers.

The Marine Band is also home to a portion of the Sousa Band and Victor Grabel Music Library, which arrived via a more circuitous route. Following his tenure as Director of the Marine Band in 1892, Sousa began collecting music to supply his newly-formed civilian band, the famed Sousa Band, managed by David Blakely from 1893 until Blakely’s death in 1896. Blakey’s widow then obtained ownership of the performance library through a lawsuit. Her children kept the materials for several years, then sold them back to Sousa in 1924. After picking out a few works to keep, he gave the rest to fellow band director Victor Grabel in 1931. Grabel eventually took the majority of it with him when he became the band director at Stetson University in Deland, Florida, in the 1940s. The collection remained at Stetson University following Grabel’s retirement in the late 1940s until Stetson gave this music to the United States Marine Band in 1969.

The Library of Congress

The small portion of the Sousa Band music library that Grabel did not take to Florida was sold to Louis M. Blaha, band director at J. Sterling Morton High School in Cicero, Illinois. The high school gave this music to the Library of Congress in 1992, where it has been processed as the music of The Sousa Band and Victor Grabel. An appendix to this finding aid lists the music from Stetson University now at the U.S. Marine Band, and thus Sousa’s first performance library is at last reunited, though only in an intellectual sense.

When the Sousa family was preparing the Manhattan townhouse at 80 Washington Place for sale, they set aside two trunks full of music manuscripts for shipment to the Library of Congress. This music was to join the materials already held at the Library, which included holographs that former Music Division chief Oscar G. T. Sonneck began acquiring 1917 as well as the holograph full score for band of “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” donated by family members in 1954. According to legend, two men walking by the nearly-empty house spied the trunks through the living room windows and broke in to help themselves to the bulky antiques. To make the load lighter, they dumped out all the music, deeming it to be of little value compared to the trunks. We are grateful for their error, as this music represents the bulk of the holograph music in the John Philip Sousa Collection at the Library of Congress. The collection also includes photographs, drafts of three of Sousa’s books, memorabilia, and business papers donated by John Philip Sousa IV. Several items from the collection can be viewed in the online presentation The March King: John Philip Sousa.

Full score.
The last page of the descriptive piece, “The Chariot Race,” holograph full score for band, November 19, 1890, Box-Folder 53/5, John Philip Sousa Collection.

Sousa Archives and Center for American Music at the University of Illinois

Sousa had started a second Sousa Band music library in 1897 when his initial holdings were in contention with Blakely’s widow. This new library became the one most used by the Sousa Band during its last three decades. In 1931, Sousa gave a small segment of this music to the University of Illinois Bands, then under the direction of Albert Austin Harding. Sousa and Harding enjoyed a close professional and personal relationship, and the gift was a gesture of Sousa’s high esteem for his friend’s flagship band program. After Sousa’s death in 1932, the remainder of the Sousa Band’s second performance library was transferred to the University and is now held by the University’s Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, along with a small amount of correspondence, clippings, photographs, programs, and artifacts, as described in the John Philip Sousa Music and Personal Papers.

Although these repositories hold the bulk of materials available for Sousa research, they are not the only places to look for information. Suggestions for further research include the New York Public Library and the Special Collections in the Performing Arts at the University of Maryland, among others.

Comments (3)

  1. This conductor/researcher is so very grateful for the work and skill of LOC’s Loras John Schissel in regard to the Sousa collection. I can’t wait to return to the Library for further investigation of the collection!

  2. Thank you, Jane, for helping tie together all the research opportunities on Sousa.

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